The Rangers 2016 Training camp officially started on Thursday, with medicals and weigh ins for 58 players. Five of the Rangers’ regulars (JT Miller, Derek Stepan, Mats Zuccarello, Ryan McDonagh, and Henrik Lundqvist) have been participating in the World Cup of Hockey and are not at the Madison Square Garden Training Center, in Greenburgh, New York. But Miller, McDonagh and Stepan are scheduled to be back in the training center this weekend and on the ice by early next week.
The other players were on the ice for the first time yesterday, with four groups doing half-hour timed laps around the rink. After yesterday’s laps, several players made themselves available to the media. Marc Staal told us that, after an early exit from the playoffs last spring, “the guys definitely have a chip on their shoulder.” On the other hand, the longer break was helpful to him, as this was the first summer in several years where Staal could just train and not worry about recovering from an injury. Dan Girardi showed some of that chip, when he came out and more forcefully said that he did not care what those who doubted his ability are saying, that he believes and, in fact, has confidence that he can be successful and return to form this season.
Head Coach Alain Vigneault agreed and talked about the importance of Girardi’s return to warrior status and Staal’s return to the defensive force of old. “They are huge. It is no secret that one of the areas that we need to improve [is] our overall defensive play. [It] needs to be better, … those guys are such a big part of that. Gaps, good sticks, being able to win some one on ones down low … That will enable us to play a fast-paced defensive and offensive game. We need those players on top of their game.”
Staal and Girardi are just two of the defensemen that will need to show the staff that they are up to the task. Dylan McIlrath, who says that he trained hard this summer and got on the ice sooner, will need to show that he moves the puck well enough to not become a liability on the ice. And Brady Skjei, who says that he is comfortable, playing either on the right or left side, will need to take all his experience of last season and clean up his defensive mistakes to be a regular roster player with the NHL team.
With McDonagh and Klein secure in their spots, there are two blueline positions up for grabs. And about a half dozen players in the mix for them. It should be an exciting rest of the camp to see who will secure those roster spots.
AV also spoke about why he is looking to change the structure of the forwards to play three scoring lines and a line that will be more defensive. “Throughout the NHL, the teams that … have won (Pittsburgh last year) [had] three offensive lines, and one line that was taking all the defensive faceoffs….It is something that I think our depth is going to permit us. We just have to find the right people obviously on those three lines….And find the people for that fourth line.”
With that change in the structure of the offense, there should be more room for young skilled players, like Jimmy Vesey, Pavel Buchnevich, Robin Kovacs, and Malte Stromwall. It should be an interesting three weeks, because, although Kovacs and Stromwall are expected to start the season in Hartford, both Vesey and Buchnevich have excellent chances to make the NHL roster.
Today at training camp, the players performed puck drills. Three teams took to the ice for two sets of skating sessions; each session lasting one half hour each. The first two teams consisted of 22 players each (and contained the skaters that are regular roster players, those fighting for roster spots, or top prospects). After that second group left the ice, General Manager Jeff Gorton spoke to the media about the roster battles that going to happen as the result of the roster changes the team made this summer, and the possibility of more changes to come.
“We are excited about the changes we were able to make. There were a lot people that thought that we could make a wholesale … change everything, but we are comfortable with our roster right now,” said Gorton. “In all positions, we are going to have a good competitive camp, and we will have to see how it plays out.” He went on to state that he “think[s that] we as an organization feel more comfortable with some of the guys in the organization than maybe some other people do. We have a lot of confidence in a lot of the players here who have had success. If we can continue that and bring some of our young players along and keep pushing … improv[ing] the team, that is the most important thing right now.”
He then stated, that his main goal is making the playoffs. “You have to get in. You have to have a great season to get in now, and who knows what happens. That is how we start off the season, our number goal is to make the playoffs and hopefully hit our stride at the right time. Obviously last year we didn’t …in other years we have done a better job of that.”
No matter how comfortable he is, however (Gorton said that “comfortable” word a lot in the less than 10 minutes that he spoke to us), Gorton told us that he is always thinking about making more moves. “That is part of my job, to see what we can do, how we can make the team better.”
Finally, in a lighter moment and referring to Rich Nash’s supposed uncertainty yesterday with his position on the team, Gorton assured us that, although he wanted competition among the players, he was “pretty comfortable that Nash is going to make our team.”