5 Storylines to Follow in New York Rangers Training Camp
For a team expected to make a deep run in the 2013-14 NHL Playoffs next season, the New York Rangers sure have a lot of questions that need answers.
Things should become clearer as training camp gets underway in less than a month.
Here, we'll take a look at five storylines every fan should be following when camp starts.
Where Does Chris Kreider Fit into Alain Vigneault's Plans?
Technically still a rookie, this could—and absolutely should—be the year Chris Kreider cements himself in the Rangers lineup.
His skill set and experience considered, Kreider should be a shoo-in somewhere on the top two lines to start the season. If that becomes the reality of the situation, and if he continues to get top minutes when Ryan Callahan and Carl Hagelin are healthy, it will be something to watch.
Kreider's been impressive in two playoff stints with the Rangers. He's actually played in three more postseason games—26—than regular season games—23. In those 26 games, he has six goals and three assists, including three game-winners.
His regular season stat line is not impressive at all—two goals and an assist—but with renewed confidence and a new coach, he should put together a nice year in a full season.
The 6'3", 220-pound winger is talented enough to play alongside Rick Nash or Ryan Callahan, but he'll have to outwork veterans Benoit Pouliot, Mats Zuccarello, Taylor Pyatt, Brian Boyle and (eventually) Hagelin if he wants to get those minutes.
With plenty of capable candidates to fill out the power-play units, head coach Alain Vigneault's use of Kreider on special teams could be telling of how comfortable he is with the 22-year-old.
Injury Status of Carl Hagelin and Ryan Callahan
Ryan Callahan and Carl Hagelin could both miss the first month of the season for the Blueshirts. As reported by Andrew Gross in May, the timetable for recovery from the shoulder surgery both players underwent is four to five months, which could mean they're ready for the first game in Phoenix, or they may be out through October:
Timetable on Hagelin/Callahan recoveries is 4-5 months. So that would mean no training camp, possibly miss start of regular season.— Andrew Gross (@AGrossRecord) May 31, 2013
Being without two of their best wingers may be a blessing in disguise. There are several players the Rangers may want to give an extended look to determine their roles heading forward.
There is a lot of depth at left wing, and unfortunately not many of the players that account for that depth are the best fits to play a fourth-line role.
But don't misunderstand, the Rangers need Hagelin and captain Cally to get back as soon as possible if they don't want to fall behind in the standings early. The team is much better with the two than without.
The Rangers may not have any elite-prospects (save maybe Chris Kreider), but the number of potentially NHL-ready players in the system is growing rapidly.
J.T. Miller, Jesper Fast, Oscar Lindberg, Danny Kristo, Marek Hrivik, Michael St. Croix and Dylan McIlrath could all make the jump sooner than later.
Barring any trades, there's most likely only one or two spots for these rookies to battle for. This should make camp extremely competitive.
Last season should serve as a warning. It doesn't matter how good things look on paper heading into a season. Depth is going to be tested with injuries, and, had the Rangers had more of it last year, perhaps things would've gone a little differently.
For the rookies, this camp isn't intriguing just for traditional reasons.
Kristo rejoins three of his former 2010 U.S. World Junior teammates—Kreider, Derek Stepan and Ryan Bourque—for a gold-medal reunion.
Fast and Lindberg, teammates for Sweden at the 2011 World Juniors, join fellow Swedes Carl Hagelin and Henrik Lunqdvist. Lindberg isn't just competing for a roster spot with the Rangers; he's competing for a roster spot on Sweden's Olympic team with Hagelin and Lundqvist this year, too.
Given the success and youth in front of him, McIlrath enjoyed an under-the-radar but successful campaign in Connecticut last year. With Dan Girardi, Anton Stralman, John Moore, Michael Del Zotto, Justin Falk and Aaron Johnson all up for new contracts at the end of the year, having an impressive camp could go a long way to pushing one or more of those players out in 2014-15.
And, of course, dark horses like Hrivik and Croix can't be ignored. Both had impressive seasons with their respective clubs in 2012-13.
Hrivik might have had a shot at playing some time in the NHL last season had it not been for a concussion he suffered the night before the lockout came to an end. A concussion he suffered in the summer made for a slow start in Connecticut last year, and despite missing time and the slow start, he managed 26 points in 40 games with the Whale.
St. Croix has had back-to-back 90-plus point seasons with the Edmonton Oil Kings in the WHL. The undersized center (5'11", 179 pounds) will need some time in the AHL before he comes close to NHL action, but the 20-year-old's first camp under contract should be an exciting time for him.
Trade Talks and Rumors
Trade talks are purely speculation at this point. In fact, general manager Glen Sather recently told Edmonton Radio that, while he's received calls about Brian Boyle, he has no interest in trading the forward:
I have had a lot of requests for Brian’s services but I am not anxious to trade him. He is a good player, a good team guy and he still has an upside to go with him. He is one of those guys that you may regret trading if you do and I am not anxious to do anything with him at this time.
With the cap so tight and three projected bottom-six forwards scheduled to have more than a $1.5 million cap hit, something may have to give before the season even begins. One has to wonder if this is just a smokescreen by Sather in an attempt to try and up Boyle's value by making teams believe there are multple suitors for Boyle.
Early in the offseason, Sather told the New York Daily News he wanted there to be plenty of opportunity for young players to compete and step into key roles for the team.
If he meant rookies, there's not much wiggle room the way it stands now.
From a cap versus expected role standpoint, Taylor Pyatt, Boyle and Michael Del Zotto have got to be top candidates to be on the trading block.
Boyle may seem most likely to move, but Boyle is an all-situations player. Who knows, perhaps he can be Alain Vigneault's garbage man and come close to the numbers he put up in 2010-11 (21 goals, 14 assists).
Moving Pyatt makes a lot of sense on the surface. If he's not in the top nine, he needs to be in the press box. This does not bode well for Pyatt. He doesn't play on the penalty kill, he can't take faceoffs and, with the forward depth the Rangers have, he may not get much power-play time either.
However, Pyatt has previous experience under Vigneault. Pyatt had one of his best seasons to date under the coach in 2006-07, scoring 14 goals and 37 assists in the regular season, and adding two goals and four assists in 14 playoff games. Whether or not what happened six years ago matters is yet to be seen, however.
The defensive depth chart is stacked. It seems like every season, defensemen go down in waves for the Rangers, and they've clearly taken note. The team will most likely start with eight on their roster.
How long those defensemen stay is what's intriguing. With Dylan McIlrath inching closer to being ready to make the jump to the NHL, and good defensive depth on the roster, Del Zotto and John Moore could be auditioning for who will be the third-pairing left defenseman after this season and who gets traded. Both are restricted free agents when the season ends.
The New Coach Learning Curve
A new coaching staff with a new philosophy can be tricky.
Gone are the days of John Tortorella's conservative system, and in comes an offensive revolution of sorts with Alain Vigneault.
Fans may be quick to line the streets and celebrate the death of endless offensive-zone cycles and all five players playing at or below the defensive-zone circles under Tortorella, but with such a drastic overhaul will come a drastic learning curve.
Another major change to consider is the approach defensemen must take.
Assistant coach Ulf Samuelsson told reporters he wants the defense to let Lundqvist make saves and clear rebounds. It feels strange to hear the approach of blocking every shot you can that has become the Rangers identity—something they struggled to find for years after the 2004-05 lockout—dismissed, just like that.
Scott Arniel will run the power play next season, but even with a significant learning curve, could it really get any worse than it was last season?
Fans can argue back and forth whether the changes will be good or bad for the team until they're blue in the face, but there's no arguing that adapting to new philosophies can come with some growing pains.
How quickly the Rangers overcome these growing pains will be a huge factor in their success in their first year under Vigneault.