Well, another season of NHL hockey is upon us. In just over a week, the New York Rangers will begin their 85th season with a game in Buffalo against Ryan Miller and the Sabres.
As the exhibition season comes to an end, with only a home-and-home set against the Ottawa Senators, now is the time where we, the fans, get to predict who John Tortorella will have remaining with the team next Saturday.
Currently, the Rangers have 27 players left in camp; two goalies, nine defensemen, and sixteen forwards.
Going into camp, it was clear there would not be many spots open for rookies trying to get their break or veterans looking to continue their careers.
Wade Redden; GONE. The veteran defenseman who spent more than a decade manning the Ottawa blueline, and signed a ludicrous six year/ 39.5 million dollar contract back in the summer of 2008, was finally waived and sent to the Hartford Wolfpack in a move many pundits around the league saw coming.
Tryouts Brandon Manning, Garnet Exelby and Alexei Semenov: GONE. Manning has never had a sniff of NHL action, but Exelby and Semenov were brought in to provide solid competition as the Rangers continue to look for a stand up, crease-clearing blueliner.
Of the 27 players remaining in camp, lets look at each position to breakdown how a roster of 23 can be reached.
Goalies: Henrik Lundqvist, Martin Biron. After sending Chad Johnson down to the minors after Sunday's game in Detroit, the Rangers are left with the two goalies who were going to start the season all along. Henrik Lundqvist, a top five NHL goaltender with a credible backup and former number one in Buffalo and Philadelphia, Marty Biron.
Defenseman: Throughout the majority of the 2009-2010 season, John Tortorella carried only six defenseman. Expect that to change this year to give the coaching staff a bit more room to make a change for a game or two if a player suffers an injury or see's a slip in play. The top four are set: Marc Staal, Dan Girardi, Michal Rozsival and MIchael Del Zotto. Four more players, out of the group of Matt Gilroy, Steve Eminger, Michael Sauer, Ryan McDonagh, and Pavel Valentenko will remain.
Matt Gilroy worked hard in the offseason to improve his play in the defensive zone, where he needs to improve over last season. He struggled closing the gap on forwards in addition to positioning around the net and in the corners. In the preseason, his play looks improved, and coach Tortorella has said he sees an improvement as well. I expect Gilroy to stick around.
Steve Eminger is a young (26) veteran who has spent time with five teams before joining the Rangers in the trade that sent Aaron Voros to the Anaheim Ducks. He has only seen action in one game and has been limited in training camp due to a sore groin. But his relatively low cap hit and ability to play in all situations leaves me to believe he'll be around as the 7th defenseman.
So that leaves us room for one more spot on the blueline and I'd give the nod to Ryan McDonagh, the first year pro out of Wisconsin. He has shown poise on the ice, and seems to get it. He won't make the flashy plays, won't put up a lot of points, but he plays tough and knows where to be. The staff seems to like him, and the fans do as well. I see McDonagh as a 5-6 defender to start the year with the ability to play even-strength and penalty kill minutes.
In my estimation, that means Michael Sauer, who will have to pass through waivers, and youngster Pavel Valentenko go to Hartford. I think both players are capable of playing in the NHL now, but it's never a bad thing to have too many NHL-ready players in the organization. Valentenko is a younger version of New Jersey's Anton Volchenkov with more offensive upside, while MIchael Sauer is a tough player who will never wow you but won't want you to punch the wall either. Both could see time with the big club this year.
Forwards: Marian Gaborik, Alexander Frolov, Vinny Prospal, Brandon Dubinsky, Ryan Callahan, Chris Drury, Erik Christensen, Sean Avery, Brandon Prust, Derek Boogaard, Artem Anisimov. Those are eleven forwards that I believe will definitely be on the roster opening night, leaving me to choose from tryout Ruslan Fedotenko, Derek Stepan, Brian Boyle, Tim Kennedy, and Todd White for the remaining three spots.
Tortorella likes Fedotenko from the time they spent together in Tampa Bay and calls Fedotenko a complete player. He's played will in the exhibition season with a goal and four helpers in three games. I think he can have a bounce back year with the Blueshirts and can see Glen Sather offering Tank a contract.
Brian Boyle and Tim Kennedy are both third or fourth line centers/wingers who bring different games to the ice. Boyle is big (6'7) and spent the summer with a skating coach to improve in that area of his game. He can kill penalties, and he's shown he's looking to hit more than he did in 09-10. Kennedy on the other hand is small; under six feet and around 170 pounds. Still, he plays a skilled game handling the puck and skating hard. He makes himself a hard target to hit by continuing to move. He hasn't really gotten on the score sheet in the preseason, but I see him making the team along with Brian Boyle.
Unfortunately, this means rookie Derek Stepan and veteran Todd White won't be with the Rangers this time next week. For Stepan, it's not for a lack of skill or effort. Truth is, if he isn't centering the first or second line, his value here is moot. He needs to go to Hartford instead, where he can play close to 20 minutes a night consistently. Trust me, I like what I see from the kid, but going to Hartford can only make him better for a callup later in the season.
Todd White becomes a victim of the salary cap era. He earns a bit more than $2 million a year and hasn't proven that he brings much to the team. He is a great faceoff guy, but won't be suited on the third line, especially once Chris Drury returns from a broken finger. If the can send White to the minors, or if another team claims him on waivers, that is where the money will come from to sign Ruslan Fedotenko.
So there you have it. My thoughts on the opening night roster for the New York Rangers. I may be right, but I may be wrong.
What are your thoughts?
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