The Rangers opened camp this past Sunday with 40 players, including 35 skaters and five netminders. Prior to the opening of training camp, team President John Davidson and General Manager Jeff Gorton met with the media and laid out their goals for training camp (and the season). Today (and tonight) will be their sixth day on the ice (Friday was a day off), and some things have become clear and clearer (and others remain murky).
To start camp, Mika Zibanejad and Keith Kinkaid (as well as Justin Richards) were day-to-day. Both Mika and Kinkaid have been on the ice since, and we expect them to be available for tonight’s scrimmage. Yesterday, K’Andre Miller was held off the ice, which the Rangers announced as “procedural,” whatever that means (Libor Hajek was also held off the ice earlier in the week). We, of course, are hoping that none of this was COVID-related. Balancing player and team privacy and transparency is not an easy thing (it wasn’t before COVID and it’s even more difficult now). But as we are moving more and more toward big money fantasy play and sports betting, at some point, this balance will have to be reexamined.
Gorton made it very clear that Vitali Kravtsov will remain in Russia with the KHL’s Traktor Chelyabinsk for the rest of the season (including playoffs, if they are in them). Then he will come over to North America. Kravtsov is on a half point/game scoring pace right now, but its in bunches. With a significant number of games in between posting points, it appears that, he still has work to do to be ready for everyday NHL play.
JD made it clear that making the playoffs is the goal for the Rangers this season. That goal will be a lot harder to achieve than making it into the “Return to Play” qualifiers last summer (the Rangers were ranked 18th out of 31 teams), when 24 teams began “Post-Season Play.” In this 56-game 2020-21 season, only four teams in the East Division will make the playoffs. In a division that includes Boston, Buffalo, the Devils, the Islanders, the Rangers, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, and Washington, making the playoffs will be a very tall, but not impossible, order.
According to David Quinn, the Rangers will likely not name a captain anytime soon. For now, the team intends “to sit where we are at.”
There has been a flurry of talk about Tony D’Angelo and his Twitter account over the days since the attack on the Capitol on Wednesday. As the fanbase is aware, Tony has been open about his conservative point of view and, in this climate, that has caused some consternation. D’Angelo made a point of announcing his intention to close his Twitter account in protest of the social media platform’s permanent suspension of President Trump’s account. When asked about it yesterday, David Quinn said that they have “certainly addressed it.” Whatever that means.
I know I am sometimes being accused of being old fashioned, but it seems to me that players should not be posting to social media anything that could have a negative effect on the team that has hired them (and often paid them millions of dollars).
That said, let’s get to on the ice.
The top line appears to be set–it will be Mika, between Chris Kreider and Pavel Buchnevich. Quinn has had glowing reviews of Buchnevich over the course of the week, with him stating unequivocably yesterday, ” this is the best camp he’s had since I have been here.”
The second line looks to be Ryan Strome between Artemi Panarin and Kaapo Kakko, and the third line Filip Chytil centering Alexis Lafreniere and Julian Gauthier. Although keeping Lafreniere out of the top six in the beginning of his rookie season is a good idea, I am not sure that Chytil and Gauthier are going to be able to help him get the most out of his play. Chytil (who seems to have some chemistry with Alexis) has been a liability on faceoffs in his first three seasons with the Rangers. No question that he can be a dynamic player, but I am not sure that he is a third-line center in this league. Frankly, I wish he could play on the wing, but alas the Rangers need centers, so there he is for now. As far as Gauthier goes, he is a big body and he did well at the AHL level, but it is not clear that he can produce much of anything in the NHL. To me, this line is very iffy. We are going to have to see what becomes of it in the first few weeks.
That leaves Brett Howden, who is having an excellent camp, and Brendan Lemieux as the two “veterans” who are on the roster. The team is giving pro rookie Morgan Barron every opportunity to make it too.
As far as the goaltending goes, it is a no brainer that Igor Shesterkin and Alexandar Georgiev will be the netminders. It is likely hoped that Kinkaid will be on the taxi squad, but remember, players who are on the taxi squad need to clear waivers. Kinkaid spent quite a few years in the Devils organization and, if New Jersey would like a big reunion, it may pick up Keith to fill their unexpected goalie needs.
Which brings us to the defense, which remains the weakest part of the Rangers’ NHL roster. The partnership of Adam Fox and Ryan Lindgren, who have known each other since they are 16 years old and are living together as roommates this season, is solid. After that, its a crapshoot. Jacob Trouba is on the left side, on the first pairing. From the first day of camp, we were told that the team was experimenting with D’Angelo playing on Trouba’s left. Frankly, it was a disaster on Thursday night and yesterday they were separated. But, we were assured by Quinn yesterday that this experiment was not over.
Jack Johnson and Brendan Smith will also be on the team, which makes six. K’Andre Miller, who, in my opinion, could be the Rangers future number one defenseman, has almost certainly played his way onto the roster (the staff and other players cannot say enough about his play thus far). But, outside of the Fox/Lindgren pairing, who plays with whom, and in which role, is still up in the air.
Decisions will have to be made, including regarding the taxi squad, soon. the Rangers’ season starts Thursday. Who goes to the taxi squad and who to the AHL, which will have an under 30 game season starting in early February, also will have to be decided within the next two to three days (Tuesday is scheduled as an off day). It is going to be a very busy week.