With a couple of days until the next round of cuts, coach Alain Vigneault tried to give all his young Rangers a chance to impress.
And impress they did.
Two goals by Ryan Haggerty and Jesper Fast along with individual tallies by Anthony Duclair, and Chris Mueller led the Baby Blueshirts to a 6-3 win over the Philadelphia Flyers.
“[The young Rangers] look really good,” said goalie Henrik Lundqvist. “The way they look and the way they see the game. They are very confident out there. It is very interesting. There are a lot of spots open out there and we will see who puts themselves in the spot.”
The Flyers at times looked like they were employing a defense optional philosophy in front of goalie Steve Mason, yet no one in the home dressing room seemed to mind.
More importantly though – with Derek Stepan out for at least the first month and probably more – Vigneault needs to take a good look at some of these kids, because there’s a few holes to fill on the roster.
One center is a must and probably two with Kevin Hayes and J.T. Miller probably having the first crack at the varsity. Miller was on the Hartford shuttle last year and the Rangers signed Hayes as a free agent after the former first round pick didn’t ink with the Blackhawks. He didn’t come here to play in Connecticut.
Fast, Haggerty, and Mueller will also get chances.
Duclair is more interesting. As a junior player, the Rangers must send him back after nine NHL regular season games or keep him on the roster the whole season.
However, Vigneault is not treating him any different.
“It’s real simple,” the coach said. “What he has to do is focus on the next game. He is playing well right now and playing well with his teammates on the ice. There is three more game and we will make the time to make the right decisions.”
The man Vigneault called The Duke in his post-game press conference had this to add: “I want to stay here as long as possible. I think I made that clear coming into camp with some good line mates, so that made it easier for me.”
Total confidence, but the Duke is a longshot. Rather take a look at Fast or Haggerty, both of whom are possible for the third or fourth line, if Ryan Malone’s hip doesn’t hold up.
“I felt like I had a lot of confidence out there,” Haggerty said. “I felt like I made the plays. I wanted to get the puck to the net, so I think it’s just another step in the right direction tonight and I have to keep following it up with better performances every time.”
This will become clearer soon. Vigneault said the roster will be pruned down to about 30 come Wednesday – after the Rangers play the backend of the home and home with Philly tomorrow. It’s still a battle and the veterans are enjoying what’s happening.
“There’s some spots to be won here, and these guys know it, coach is saying it,” said defenseman Ryan McDonough. “Asking us every day what they need to do to get better on the ice and talking to us in practice about situations that happened in the game before.”
Fortunately, there’s some time left and Vigneault is looking to clear up this good problem in the near future, because as everyone knows, most of these kids will be in the minors or juniors before pre-season ends.
It’s just a question of who stays and who goes.