New York Rangers Training Camp Preview: Forwards Battling for Final Roster Spots
Unless Derek Stepan's contract situation results in the New York Rangers shaking things up with a trade, the roster they have right now should be what they head into the preseason with.
Even if we assume Carl Hagelin and Ryan Callahan are sidelined to start the year, there are really only two spots up for grabs.
There are 11 healthy forwards—Brian Boyle, Derick Brassard, Derek Dorsett, Chris Kreider, Dominic Moore, Rick Nash, Benoit Pouliot, Taylor Pyatt, Brad Richards, Derek Stepan and Mats Zuccarello—who are all a lock to be on the team when the puck drops in October.
That leaves one temporary spot in the lineup in limbo while Callahan and Hagelin nurse themselves back to health. There will probably be one more spot in the press box as an extra forward, as it's hard to imagine the Rangers won't carry two extra defensemen after signing Justin Falk and Aaron Johnson to one-year deals.
Let's take a closer look at what all of the players slated to fight for the final roster spots up front have to offer.
Be sure to chime in with who you'd like to see make the roster in the comments section below.
Darroll Powe has had a rough go at it since he joined the team.
Thirty-four regular season games, three playoff games—no goals, no assists.
It was hardly what the Rangers had hoped for when they dealt Mike Rupp to the Wild for Powe and minor leaguer Nick Palmieri. Instead of providing more offensive support than Rupp, he provided none.
He cleared waivers earlier in the offseason.
Barring a trade to free up cap space, the Rangers would love for his $1 million cap hit to go away. There are more inexpensive players that bring more to the table in the system.
Verdict: Powe has played his last game as a Ranger. If they can't find somewhere to trade him and he makes through another round of waivers, he'll most likely be buried in the AHL.
A lot of Rangers fans thought they'd hate Arron Asham. As the season progressed, he made it more and more difficult to maintain that disdain.
It's hard to dislike a guy that just goes out and does anything the coach asks for. And who can forget Asham's goals against the Caps in the playoffs? His Game 7 goal would stand as the game-winner.
Despite being placed on waivers this offseason, Asham is confident in his ability to still contribute to the Rangers, as he told Kevin Hirschfield of the Toronto Sun in June:
It was more of a salary thing for signing guys in the next year. They haven't given up on me. I'm still going back and playing for the Rangers. Sure, I would have been happy if somebody picked me up. But it's just part of the business. I wasn't hurt or upset or anything like that.
It's still hard to envision Asham as a fit next season. Cap issues will affect his status, just like Powe.
The only saving grace for the 14-year veteran may be the fact that there are plenty of heavyweights left in the Eastern Conference. What might be his downfall is the presence of cheaper options with just as much heart and upside.
Verdict: He'll get a decent look in camp, but it will be a surprise to see Asham wear a Rangers sweater next season with cheaper options available to fill his role.
J.T. Miller gave everyone a taste of what kind of potential he has in his first NHL action, but in time showed he had plenty to learn before he could be an NHL regular.
After scoring two goals in his Madison Square Garden debut against the New York Islanders, he went scoreless for the remainder of the season, eventually being demoted back to Connecticut.
This is a new slate for Miller, though, and no one doubts the kid's talent and ability. It's just a matter of time before he's an established third-line player that can play some special teams and fill in on the second line from time to time.
Unfortunately for Miller, he carries the entry-level contract of a first-round pick $1.24 million at the NHL level, something the Rangers may not be able to fit on their roster to start the season.
Verdict: Miller starts the season in the AHL, but he's the first call up.
Fresh off a successful senior year at the University of North Dakota, it'll be interesting to see how much of an opportunity Danny Kristo is given to prove himself and earn a roster spot.
There's no doubt he's got offensive upside. The kind of upside that had many, such as HockeyBuzz.com's Julie Robenhymer, labeling the trade with Montreal that sent Christian Thomas to the Canadiens another instance of the Rangers robbing the Habs blind. She said Kristo has addressed scouts' concerns:
All I've heard from Montreal scouts for the past two years is how concerned they are about his off-ice maturity and while his behavior during his freshman and sophomore seasons at North Dakota definitely gave just cause for such concern, his bout with frostbite (a consequence of his poor decisions) was a turning point for him. His focus off the ice has improved dramatically and it's been reflected by his performance on the ice. The thought of losing his toes and being unable to play hockey professionally was a ginormous wake up call and he's cleaned up his act.
If the Rangers feel there's a role for Kristo on the third or second line, he might have a shot. Odds are, though, they'll look for players like Brian Boyle and Taylor Pyatt to play a larger role until Carl Hagelin and Ryan Callahan return.
Verdict: Even if his NHL cap hit was lower, there's no need to rush things with Kristo. Some time in the AHL will be good for him. If he gets off to a good start, he may see a call-up to get some NHL experience under his belt.
Next season will be Fast's first full season in North America. He's enjoyed moderate success overseas. In his last season with HV71 in the Swedish Elite League, he scored 18 goals and 17 assists in 47 games.
Fast is as described—fast. Speed is his greatest asset, and he could be valuable on a third line with fellow speedy Swede Carl Hagelin. He thinks his game will transfer to the smaller North American rinks well, as he told Andrew Gross of Ranger Rants in April:
My game is to skate hard and work hard and try to get the puck to the net and hopefully score some goals. I’ve been playing in the small rinks before in the World Juniors. I feel pretty good here. I like the small rinks, hopefully it fits me well…Back in Sweden, if you have the puck in the corner you can’t shoot all the time, it’s too far away.
He scored a goal in his first and only game with the Connecticut Whale last season.
Verdict: If he has a good camp, there's a chance he starts the season with the team skating some shifts on the third line. But, like the situation with Danny Kristo, there's no need to rush things here. Fast is most likely in the future plans for the Rangers, just not the immediate future.
Oscar Lindberg's skill set should translate well in a bottom-six role for an NHL team.
He's played in the Swedish Elite League since he was 18 years old. Last season was a breakout year for the 21-year-old. He scored 17 goals and 25 assists in 55 games and added four goals and eight assists in 12 playoff games.
The problem for Lindberg is the Rangers have great depth at center. With Derek Stepan, Derick Brassard, Brad Richards and Dominic Moore cemented into the four center spots in the lineup, along with Brian Boyle's experience at center, there's simply no room.
Gordie Clarke told Jim Cerny of Blueshirts United that Lindberg is a two-way center who is "more ready" for the NHL than his fellow countryman Jesper Fast. He was quick to point out, however, that Fast's skill set is more fit for what the Rangers may need at the beginning of the year.
Verdict: There's just too much depth in front of him. He'll start in the AHL.
It's time Micheal Haley to show the NHL if he's capable of being a fourth-line guy that contribute with a little bit of offense, or if he's destined to be an AHL player who gets the occasional call-up when injuries occur.
If he can avoid taking stupid penalties and have a good camp, there's an outside chance he starts the season as the team's enforcer. Beginning the season with nine straight road games, the Blueshirts are going to want to have some players who can go out and throw their weight around.
Verdict: He's in the lineup for the opener against Phoenix. He will probably be scratched for a few games, and he'll probably get sent down when Carl Hagelin and/or Ryan Callahan are healthy, but the Rangers need an enforcer to start the season, and at his $600,000 cap hit, the price is right.
Perhaps the dark horse candidate in the competition to act as the Rangers on-call enforcer.
At 6'4", 235 pounds, he has what Haley and Asham don't exactly have—size.
He's also just as cheap as Haley, with a $605,000 cap hit.
With 10 goals and nine assists in 35 games in Connecticut, he showed he's capable of some offense, too.
Yet to register a point in 17 NHL games, he'll need a big camp to start the year with the club.
Verdict: Mashinter's been playing in the pros since 2009. At this point, his role for an NHL club is clear—a heart and soul kind of player who's good for a call-up or two when you have injuries.
He'll start the year in the NHL as the extra forward for the Rangers, and he'll either split the last roster spot with Micheal Haley or be on a shuttle to Hartford in exchange for a more offensively inclined player like J.T. Miller depending on the night.