The New York Rangers made a number of transactions this summer to bolster their roster, but there are still some roles that need to be filled for the upcoming season.
One role in particular is the No. 6 defenseman spot on the third pairing—a role John Moore occupied last season.
Moore is currently a restricted free agent without a contract, although all signs point to him being back with the club for the 2014-15 season. Andrew Gross of The Record reported that Moore received a qualifying offer of $850,500, and that will likely be his next contract as Moore has no arbitration rights.
In addition to Moore, there are candidates such as Conor Allen and Dylan McIlrath, but which blueliner should occupy the No. 6 spot this season?
Unless there is a massive coup in camp or Moore isn't re-signed, he should return as the team’s No. 6 defender in October. McIlrath is unlikely to usurp Moore or Allen because he still needs to come a long way in terms of development.
He has physicality and size, but the rest of his game needs to come around. That was evident during his brief NHL stint last season, as McIlrath looked a step behind the rest of the players on the ice.
McIlrath's slowness—for lack of a better word—was to be expected to a degree when you consider that the defender is a behemoth at 6'5" and 230 pounds, but he can compensate for his lack of mobility with a quicker response time.
Another season in the AHL will allow McIlrath to continue his development, and then the team's brass can make an assessment as to where he fits in the Blueshirts' future plans.
Allen, on the other hand, should be a strong candidate to fill the No. 6 spot even though he likely won’t replace Moore. However, you can expect Allen to really push Moore in training camp. The rookie defender was an undrafted college free agent from UMass Amherst, and the Rangers inked him to a deal in 2013.
The rearguard stands 6’1”, weighs 210 pounds and is a mobile defender who is confident in all three zones. That was evident by watching him during his spell with the Rangers in 2013-14.
Although the Rangers decided to return him to the Hartford Wolf Pack after three games, head coach Alain Vigneault even complimented Allen.
"He was one of our better 'D,' he outplayed some of the other guys and he deserved to be out there," Vigneault told reporters. "He was poised with the puck, wasn't afraid to take a hit to make a play, and that's why he got that ice time."
After being sent down, Allen really turned heads in the AHL by tallying 31 points in 72 games during his first professional season.
It should be noted that Allen is 24, so the age difference between him and other players in the minors could have factored into his AHL success. Nonetheless, the season was impressive because Allen showed he can contribute offensively, and that is something that could help at the NHL level.
Allen will prove to be Moore’s toughest competition, but there’s no reason why Moore shouldn't be a member of the Rangers on opening night.
Moore has all the tools to be a solid offensive defender in the NHL. He stands 6'3" and weighs 202 pounds. He is a lightning-quick skater that moves the puck well, has a booming slapper and tremendous vision.
His decision-making could use some improvement, as pointed out by The Hockey News, but the 23-year-old should have that opportunity this season.
Moore would be paired with a steady shutdown defender in Kevin Klein, which would give him the opportunity to continue developing offensive creativity.
The Rangers have high hopes for Moore, so it makes sense to give him an opportunity.
He was a part of the megadeal that ultimately sent Marian Gaborik to the Columbus Blue Jackets, and the Rangers got him because they sent defenseman Tim Erixon to Columbus during the prior summer in the Rick Nash deal.
Erixon was a prospect similar in composition to Moore, so it made sense to make a trade that helped fill a hole. Moore will turn 24 this season, and he will need to make his mark. Brady Skjei is a highly touted prospect who is returning to college this season, and he's a player who could ultimately take Moore's job.
For now, Moore is the right candidate for the No. 6 spot. With that said, he will need to take advantage of this opportunity to cement a future with the Broadway Blueshirts.