Training camp will present the New York Rangers with plenty of difficult decisions, but three players should stand out from the rest.
Constructing a roster is always a difficult task. For the New York Rangers, the 2018-19 preseason will present them with the daunting task of what to do with three young solid players on the cusp of making an impact at the NHL level.
The likes of Filip Chytil, Lias Andersson, Neal Pionk, Alexandar Georgiev and many others all will be looking to crack the opening night roster. But there are three players that seem to have been lost in the mix; Vinni Lettieri, Boo Nieves, and Tony DeAngelo.
All three of those players received significant playing time at one point or another for the Blueshirts in 2017-18. But, their stays at the NHL level weren’t ones that they would have liked or in some cases deserved. They are all players that should be given serious consideration when general manager Jeff Gorton and head coach David Quinn sit down and make the final roster prior to the Blueshirts Oct. 7 opener against Nashville.
Vinni Lettieri might not have the experience that Nieves and DeAngelo have had the NHL level, but he presents the Rangers with a difficult decision. He skated in 19 games for the Blueshirts where he only scored a goal and five assists.
But, one thing to like about Lettieri’s game is that he’s always an active presence when he takes the ice. He might not have the size that most players do, but that does not stop the 23-year-old from using the body and being aggressive when he needs to be. Not only is capable of using the body, but he has shown the ability to put the puck in the back of the net, scoring 23 goals for the Hartford Wolf Pack a season ago.
What hurts Lettieri is that he is a center (a position where the Blueshirts have more than an enough on the NHL level), and his contract. Still on his entry-level deal, would not have to clear waivers should the Blueshirts decide he is not ready at the end of training camp.
After the Rangers made their moves at the 2018 trade deadline, the thought would be that Lettieri would be given another shot to prove his worth at the NHL level. That never happened despite his strong showing in Hartford. This season with a strong training camp and preseason, Lettieri should find a spot on the opening night roster.
Boo Nieves’ situation is quite different than that of Lettieri’s. Nieves was given a legitimate amount of time to show his worth in the NHL, and actually did a good job centering the Rangers fourth line.
He skated in 28 games for the Blueshirts, scoring just one goal and eight assists. But that was never the question when it came to Nieves considering he’s never put more than eight goals on the AHL level.
The 24-year-old was called upon to secure the Blueshirts’ fourth line after the experiment with Filip Chytil did not work, and Nieves did nothing but impress. He was solid on face-offs winning 44 percent of the draws he took. Defensively he didn’t serve as a liability and actually was a plus 12 in his short action on Broadway.
Despite the positives out Nieves’ game, the team decided to send him down to Hartford and go with the veteran Peter Holland for the remainder of the season.
2018-19 should serve as a stepping stone for Nieves. He can cement himself as the team’s fourth line center and actually be given a chance to grow under David Quinn. It honestly would be a mistake if Nieves started the season in Hartford.
Tony DeAngelo should have a big year on Broadway in 2018-19. He was one of the two pieces the Blueshirts acquired in the Derek Stepan trade and should be ready to take the next step.
He cracked the Rangers roster out of training camp last season but, found himself quickly down in Hartford. His name was called upon again after Kevin Shattenkirk went down with a season-ending injury allowing him to showcase his skill at the NHL level. But his season too was cut short to injury following a sprained ankle.
Prior to the injury, DeAngelo had been playing some of his best hockey of the year. Former head coach Alain Vigneault had no choice to play the 22-year-old, and although there were some growing pains, DeAngelo did what he was asked to do. DeAngelo finished the year with just eight points, all assists, but he left management with hope for what he can provide this season and beyond.
2018-19 should serve as his first legitimate chance to prove what he can do in the NHL. But, what can’t happen is the team give up on him after a few bad games. The team needs to let him develop at the NHL level in order to see what he really can do without having to constantly look over his back. Should they feel he needs more seasoning that’s fine, but it needs to happen after a larger sample size on the NHL level.
All three of these players are young controllable players with a great load of potential. The obvious solution is to let them sit in the AHL and develop, but it shouldn’t be that simple.
We’ve seen them all play at the NHL level and produce in some way. The problem is they never were really given a legitimate chance to play their game, something that will change in 2018-19. Now it’s time they get the chance to show they can handle the pressure.