The New York Rangers’ season opener is just around the corner, so let’s take a look at the potential roster to face the New York Islanders.This past Saturday, the long awaited return of hockey came to a close as the World Cup of Hockey officially got underway for the first time since 1996. Hockey fans around the globe rejoiced to see the world’s most talented players gather in Toronto to play for their respective countries.
However, most hockey fans can agree that the real excitement will come in just a couple weeks when they exchange their international sweaters for the jerseys of their respective NHL teams.
It’s difficult to believe that the NHL season is now less than a month away. It feels like just yesterday that the Pittsburgh Penguins were lifting Lord Stanley’s Cup at SAP Center in downtown San Jose.
Now, while the entire league comes into the year with a clean slate, each and every team faces a glut of uncertainties.
Whether it is the bottom feeding Toronto Maple Leafs, or the reigning champion Penguins, who possess question marks at the goaltending position (despite Matt Murray‘s fantastic playoff run), all 32 teams have a plethora of question marks, whether good or bad.
One team that has a rather large amount of discrepancies is the New York Rangers. Coming off an underwhelming season that saw them fall victim to an early playoff exit, much of the talk surrounding the Rangers has been last year’s puzzling play in front of Henrik Lundqvist.
This certainly is something to watch out for going forward, given how sloppy the back line performed as a group last year.
One question regarding the Blueshirts that has seemingly flown under the radar is how the Rangers are going to handle their surplus of forwards.
This offseason has definitely seen its fair share of changes on Broadway. Jeff Gorton decided to take a dip into the fountain of youth with their additions of former Ottawa Senators forward Mika Zibanejad, Hobey Baker Award winner Jimmy Vesey, and Brandon Pirri while ridding themselves of 28-year old fan favorite Derick Brassard, puck-moving specialist Keith Yandle, and speedster Viktor Stalberg.
In addition, Gorton has added guys like penalty killing magician Michael Grabner, Nathan Gerbe, and Josh Jooris while inking 21-year old Russian Pavel Buchnevich and Cristoval (better known as “Boo”) Nieves to entry-level contracts. The Blueshirts also retained Niklas Jensen.
The New York Rangers top nine is all but set in stone right now. However, it’s evident that the team will be forced to make some difficult decisions over the next couple weeks to determine who will crack the opening night roster.
Their indisputable obsession over depth suggests that they won’t make a move for a defenseman, so it appears that Alain Vigneault will have some extremely tough decisions regarding who will make the opening roster.
Let’s take a look at who will be on Vigneault’s opening night roster and who will not.
Vesey’s case to make the roster is very enticing.
The 23-year old was a hot commodity this offseason before finally agreeing to an ELC with the Rangers. Despite brutally high expectations for the former Harvard star, not many knew how he would fare at the next level.
He’s certainly off to a fast start.
Vesey has been very noticeable early on at Traverse City, putting up five goals to go along with two helpers in four contests, including the game-winner against the Minnesota Wild on Monday.
Vesey has widened eyes with his great speed and quick hands. He looks ready for the NHL.
Verdict: Vesey will be in Vigneault’s opening night lineup.
When he was signed on the opening day of free agency, it appeared that Gerbe would make the team as a fourth-line winger.
Unfortunately for Gerbe, a lot has transpired since then and the likelihood of him seeing ice time this year has drastically declined.
At 5-foot-4 and just 178 pounds, Gerbe has always played with a chip on his shoulder when he was in Buffalo and, most recently, Carolina. He has always been a solid penalty killer, but has struggled the past two years with the Hurricanes, especially last season where he was held to just seven points in an injury-riddled campaign.
His future likely sits in Hartford.
Verdict: Gerbe will not make Vigneault’s opening night lineup.
Unlike Gerbe, Nieves has bolstered his stock since the first day of July.
Selected in the second round by the Rangers, the 22-year old has done a solid job alongside Vesey and Buchnevich on the top line as the captain of the baby Rangers at Traverse City.
Nieves showcased his speed and lanky frame last year at the University of Michigan and with the Hartford Wolf Pack. While Nieves has the potential to be a top-six forward at the next level, he still needs to put on some weight in order to be ready for the NHL.
While Nieves’s talent suggests that he is ready for the next level, the Blueshirts depth says otherwise.
Verdict: Nieves will not be in Vigneault’s opening night lineup.
Similar to Vesey, Buchnevich is expected to be a big contributor right away in New York.
Unlike Vesey however, the 21-year old was virtually silent in Traverse City before picking up an assist in the final game of the tournament. Unfortunately for Rangers’ fans, Buchnevich was unable to show why he was so highly touted for the majority of the tournament.
Despite his slow start, the Russian has sensational play-making ability that will make him a dangerous player going forward with New York.
His underwhelming start is nothing to be worried about. Expect Buchnevich to be in the lineup when the Blueshirts open up the season.
Verdict: Buchnevich will be in Vigneault’s opening night lineup.
When Jeff Gorton inked Jooris to a one-year deal, it appeared as he would fill the void left by injured center Oscar Lindberg.
Just two months later, Jooris’s role looks to have significantly changed.
The former Calgary Flames center is a relentless forechecker, penalty killer, and has the ability to make plays. On any other team, he would likely be your every night fourth-line center. But on a team that has six capable centers (when Lindberg is healthy), Jooris will prove to be a depth guy who can step in when injuries arise.
Jooris will prove to be valuable to Alain Vigneault, but he won’t make be a part of AV’s plans to open up the season.
Verdict: Jooris will not be in Vigneault’s opening night lineup.
Pirri is one of the most puzzling cases for the Rangers.
The 25-year old is coming off a year that saw him register 29 points in a mere 61 games with the Florida Panthers and Anaheim Ducks. He carries with him a “shoot first” mentality, which will absolutely sit well with AV.
Pirri and the aforementioned Jooris are both fighting for a spot on the fourth line. Pirri will end up claiming the job due to his ability to find the back of the net.
Verdict: Expect to see Pirri as the fourth center on opening night.
Jensen has impressed many since arriving in New York.
Acquired in the trade that sent Emerson Etem to the Vancouver Canucks, the Denmark native posted 25 points in 41 appearances with Hartford last year. The former first round pick has a fantastic shot and good speed, something that the Rangers lacked last term.
Although Jensen will likely start off his season in the AHL, he definitely will have the opportunity to see the ice this year. The question is will he take advantage?
Verdict: Jensen will not be in Vigneault’s opening night lineup.
Glass has found a way to consistently be in the Blueshirt’s lineup over the past two years despite not providing anything except an occasional fight.
Glass simply doesn’t belong on an NHL roster and after getting away with being nonexistent on the ice for two straight years, the Rangers depth will allow Vigneault to finally make a change.
Let’s just say it would take a small miracle to see Glass on the ice against the Islanders on opening night.
Verdict: Glass will not be in Vigneault’s opening night lineup.