Training camp is set to start, and already the New York Rangers are holding informal practices to get ready for the season. This has set the stage for the key training camp battles to watch.
While most of the roster is set in stone, there are still a few battles to be worked out before the season starts. Which are the key training camp battles? And who is likely to win them? Read on to find out.
This battle is between Stu Bickel and Steve Eminger. Bickel played most of last year as the sixth defenseman and had nine points.
However, Bickel would be on the bench in key situations. Most notably was when he played only two minutes in the Rangers' triple overtime thriller in the playoffs against the Washington Capitals.
That means that John Tortorella and the coaching staff do not trust Bickel. That's a pretty big indictment. In a short season, teams are going to need to manage their players effectively. That means that Ryan McDonagh and Dan Girardi cannot play as much because they have to make sure they're ready for the stretch run.
Steve Eminger is a bit more steady. He played in 42 games last year and had five points. Eminger doesn't bring the physicality and toughness that Bickel has, but he's far more steady and would be able to play more meaningful minutes.
Bickel did beat out Eminger last season, but Eminger is the better player and gives the coaching staff more options. Still, he'll have to win it in camp.
Second Line Left Wing
In informal practices, the lines have looked something like this: [via ESPN NY]
Let's focus our energies on the second-line left wing. Two-thirds of that line is set. Derek Stepan will be the center, and Ryan Callahan will be the right wing. But who will be the left wing?
The two candidates are Carl Hagelin and Chris Kreider.
Kreider has struggled in the AHL, putting up only five goals and seven assists in 33 games. That's not going to cut it in the NHL. Kreider will have to prove himself in camp.
But we saw in the playoffs what he can do, and he's a potential game-breaker. Hagelin, while a solid player, doesn't possess that kind of game-breaking skill.
Hagelin is the early leader in the clubhouse, but if Kreider can play like he's capable, then he can quickly earn that second-line spot.
Fourth Line Right Wing
This battle is between Arron Asham and Michael Haley.
While Asham is the favorite after signing a two-year, $2 million deal, Haley has been keeping sharp in the minors, posting three goals and seven assists, along with a whopping 105 penalty minutes in 34 games.
Both players are known for their toughness and willingness to drop the gloves. Asham is the veteran and the clear favorite. But since Haley is coming into camp in midseason form, he might be able to surpass Asham early on.
Asham has more offensive upside, as he scored five goals and added 11 assists last season, but Haley will have the better conditioning and could gain the upper hand.