Artemi Panarin
ESNY Graphic, Getty Images

With the New York Rangers halfway through the preseason schedule, David Quinn begins to finalize his roster.

Frank Curto

The preseason is at the halfway point which means the New York Rangers coaching staff needs to kick it into high gear. Head coach David Quinn has plenty of personnel decisions to make.

The good news is this: the top-six forwards look to be locked.

Artemi Panarin-Mika Zibanejad-Pavel Buchnevich and Chris Kreider-Filip Chyti-Kaapo Kakko seem to be the two top lines to begin the 2019-20 season.

The bottom two lines are not as clear. Quinn has said he wants to use Brett Howden and Lias Andersson as the centers, though it is unclear who would be on the third and fourth lines.

Also unclear are the wingers. Vitali Kravtsov, Vladislav Namestnikov, Ryan Strome, Boo Nieves, Brendan Lemieux, Jesper Fast, Michael Haley and Gregg McKegg are all in the mix.

The coaching staff has been taking a hard look at Haley since camp began. His aggressiveness on the ice it something the club likes, but that role may already be filled by Lemieux.

It’s a safe bet that Lemieux and Fast make the squad, so that leaves just three winger positions (if Quinn decides to carry an extra forward) with Strome, Nieves, Haley, McKegg, Namestnikov and Kravtsov all battling.

Strome should be able to remain up with the club after he survived the rumors of his (trade) demise. He is a versatile player who fits in nicely and should have a better year now that he is more familiar with the club and its surroundings.

That leaves two spots open with three games left. Kravtsov could very well, to the surprise of many, not start the season in New York, but instead, lace up the skates in Hartford.

He would be the first call-up after a most-certain injury occurs.

This looks all clean and simple. Yet there is another factor.

David Quinn remains uncommitted

Following practice on Monday, Quinn made a few comments that suggest a lot of what was just written should be thrown into the Rangers meat grinder.

Quinn said this about his “centers,”
Tweeted by Newsday’s Colin Stephenson:

“DQ [David Quinn] said all 3 young centers — Chytil, Andersson, and Howden — do need to make the team. Chytil would need to be a top 9 forward to stick. If all three make it, one may be a fourth-line center or one or more may move to the wing.”

It sounds like the coaching staff is still dwindling the prospects. Competition does make players better and there is a good chance that a good hockey player may be on the outside looking in on opening night.

The Defense

The Blueline has similar issues now that Anthony DeAngelo signed his contract last week.

The locks are Brady Skjei, Jacob Trouba, Marc Staal and DeAngelo.

Adam Fox has enjoyed a great preseason and it would be surprising to see him start at Hartford.

The leaves Brendan Smith, Ryan Lindgren, Libor Hajek, Joe Morrow and Yegor Rykov. That’s six defensemen for one spot and possibly and extra, should Quinn choose that path.

It seems hard to imagine Smith makes the roster, but his experience at the NHL level might give him the edge he desperately needs.

Morrow is in the lineup Tuesday night and will get another look as he will be paired with Smith when the Blueshirts host the Islanders at MSG.

The Goaltenders

As it stands, Henrik Lundqvist and Alexandar Georgiev will be the one-two punch the organization is relying on to carry this young team.

President John Davidson has said many times already that Hank will not experience the workload that he is accustomed to. This will put additional pressure on Georgiev, with Igor Shesterkin waiting for the opportunity to make his mark.

Shesterkin will start with the Wolf Pack but will see time on Broadway this year.

Predictions

Since it seems to be the popular thing to do, here is my opening night lineup for what its worth:

Forwards
Panarin-Zibanejad -Buchnevich
Kreider- Chytil- Kakko
Strome-Andersson-Kravtsov
Lemieux-Howden-Fast

Haley as the extra.

Defense
Skjei-Trouba
Staal-Fox
Lindgren-DeAngelo

Hajek as extra.

Goalies
Lundqvist
Georgiev

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