The Rangers will take on the Flyers tonight in their third preseason game. As of the writing of this article, the players participating in the Wells Fargo Arena game have yet to be named. But the lineup will look more like the team that played in MSG on Wednesday than that which was assembled in New Jersey last night. It’s not that the team lost badly last night (which it did—the 4-2 final score did not reflect the play on the ice), it is that that, with less than two weeks to go until opening night, it is time to start finding out who should be on a line together and try to solidify the chemistry between those players.
But before we get there, let’s talk about some of the takeaways from the first two games.
- Four goalies have each played half a game thus far. Surprisingly, the netminder who has looked the best is currently number four on the depth chart—Adam Huska. He had a marvelous performance last night, facing 16 New Jersey shots and only relinquishing one goal. There is absolutely no chance that he starts in New York when the regular season begins, but he has quietly shown himself to be a real NHL prospect who has the potential to be a number one at some point. The highly touted prospect Igor Shesterkin looked shaky when he went between the pipes in the second half of Wednesday night’s game, but then he gained confidence and looked better and better. Shesterkin continued his good play in practice over the last two days and has more of a chance to start in New York than Huska—but not much of a chance. It is expected that Shesterkin and Huska will be battling for the number one spot in Hartford, not in New York. Shesterkin likely will win that battle and, absent injury to Henrik Lundqvist or Alexandar Georgiev, will spend several months in Connecticut before making his NHL debut. At that point, Huska will get the number one position in Hartford and, hopefully, run with it.
- As for Georgiev (who played Wednesday) and Lundqvist (who started very slowly last evening), neither was particularly impressive in their debut. Expect them to get plenty of time between the pipes in the next four preseason games, with Henrik, of course, remaining the NHL number one when the regular season starts. Georgiev’s numbers were actually considerably better than Henrik’s last season, but still expect Lundqvist to get more games in net than Georgiev to begin this campaign. Lundqvist’s appearance in 52 games last season will likely not be duplicated in 2019-20, but at least to start, he is the number one netminder.
- On defense, the team is in flux. There may finally be a legit top pairing in Jacob Trouba and Brady Skjei. Much has been made of the fact that they know each from childhood and have played together on the US team, but long term, their styles of play and if that works as a pair are much more important. Beyond that, Marc Staal will be a fixture on the blueline, although he will need to make up for some of the loss of skill that his age (and previous injury) have brought. That leaves four spots, one of which will certainly be occupied by the recent signee Tony DeAngelo. The just signed TonyD will certainly play during next week’s preseason games and be on the NHL roster on opening night. So, three spots are technically up for grabs. One will almost certainly be taken by Adam Fox and another by Libor Hajek. Head Coach David Quinn loves Fox, having seen and admiring his skill when they both were in the Boston area. Fox seemed a bit tentative in his appearance on Wednesday evening, but Quinn was glowing about him after the game, so I just don’t see him going to Hartford to start the season. Hajek joined the team toward the end of last season and was playing well when he was injured. He played almost 20 minutes on Wednesday evening and generally looked good. That leaves only one open spot. Most of the likely candidates were on the ice last night and did not particularly impress. The one who did impress was the veteran Joe Morrow, who played the most minutes on the team and had blocked shots, hits, and no giveaways. Morrow is on a PTO right now, but it is a more than even bet that he will be signed to a contract before the season starts. The other candidates will either be assigned to Hartford or go back to Europe.
- The forwards. I already went through the potential forward lines in my story of the other day (see https://www.nysportsday.com/2019/09/19/treff-rangers-possible-forward-lines-to-open-the-season/ ), in which I mention that Brett Howden, Ryan Strome, Jesper Fast, and Vlad Namestnikov are potential fourth line players. Obviously there is one extra name there, so that player may take an open spot on the roster. But what about Michael Haley, who has certainly shown his value as a guy who will jump in and protect the highly skilled players? And what about Greg McKegg and Boo Nieves, both of whom have shown in camp that they are deserving of a shot. If Vitali Kravtsov starts in Hartford (which is definitely a possibility, depending on his performance in the rest of the preseason games), that leaves an open roster spot? And how about a possible trade? As of right now, Namestnikov (who has a $4 million cap hit) could be a man out. So could Strome ($3.1 million). This could get very interesting.
More will be revealed after the Rangers game in Phillie tonight—expect more cuts as Hartford starts their camp today. There are two certainties with this team right now though–the Rangers are so much better than they were last year and that they will not be as bad during the season as they looked in their first two preseason games.