Although it’s only a preseason game, the New York Rangers will learn a lot about themselves on Saturday night.
New York Rangers head coach David Quinn held nothing back when discussing the importance of Saturday’s game. It’s the final preseason game of the year and the Rangers are facing off against those pesky New York Islanders.
“There are some very difficult decisions we’re going to have to make,” Quinn said. “Someone might do something that keeps him in; someone might do something that keeps him out. That’s how tight it is.”
The competition remains. There are still 31 players left in camp.
Following the announcement that Steven Fogarty was sent to the AHL Hartford Wolf Pack on Friday, the Rangers have:
Forwards (17): Lias Andersson, Pavel Buchnevich, Filip Chytil, Jesper Fast, Micheal Haley, Brett Howden, Kaapo Kakko, Vitali Kravtsov, Chris Kreider, Brendan Lemieux, Vinni Lettieri, Greg McKegg, Vladislav Namestnikov, Boo Nieves, Artemi Panarin, Ryan Strome, Mika Zibanejad.
Defensemen (11): Tony DeAngelo, Adam Fox, Libor Hajek, Ryan Lindgren, Joe Morrow, Tarmo Reunanen, Yegor Rykov, Brady Skjei, Brendan Smith, Marc Staal, Jacob Trouba.
Goaltenders (3): Alexandar Georgiev, Henrik Lundqvist, Igor Shesterkin.
Quinn has expressed that he would like to carry 23 players coming out of camp, but that number is not firm.
Who Is On The Bubble?
Starting on the Blueline, it appears DeAngelo, Fox, Trouba, Skjei and Staal have secured their place on the roster.
Smith, Lindgren, Hajek, Rykov, Reunanen and Morrow seem to be battling for the final sixth. Quinn could opt to keep a seventh defenseman as well.
After seeing the pairings used in practice, all of the “bubble players” will be in the lineup Saturday with the exception of Rykov who was listed as injured on Friday.
An interesting side-bar—Smith will play Saturday night, but if the lineup follows the same line combinations as Friday, he will likely be playing as a right-wing on the fourth line.
Quinn had mentioned earlier in camp that he might use Smith as a forward. It appears he’s ready to test that idea.
The Decision On Offense Is No Easier
With 17 players left and only about 13 spots available, the final game has legitimate significance.
The locks should be Zibanejad, Panarin, Buchnevich, Kreider, Strome, Kakko, Namestnikov, Howden, Fast, Lemieux and Andersson.
Andersson has been the most improved player since camp began. He gained muscle despite losing some weight. The improvement has been seen throughout camp and it is the best he has looked since he was drafted in 2017.
Now for the hard part. Kravtsov, Chytil, Haley, McKegg, Nieves and Lettieri are going to have to prove to the coach that they belong here. It’s a one-game tryout.
There are plenty of factors to determine these final pieces, one of which is the schedule. The Rangers only play three games in the first 14 days of the regular season.
Sending Kravtsov down would be a failure, but an opportunity to get some valuable ice time at the AHL level while the Rangers are practicing more than they are playing games.
The same could be said for Chytil who has struggled for much of the preseason. Strome has taken over his second-line center position.
Don’t think players like Haley and McKegg are out of the running. Quinn has made it clear that anyone who is still with the team could make the final roster.
In The Crease
Henrik Lundqvist is the undisputed number one. The battle between Georgiev and Shesterkin is tight. Both will be in the lineup Saturday.
Georgiev has the experience, but Shesterkin has looked better in games so far. The schedule will probably dictate the decision in this one as Shesterkin would benefit more from playing games in the AHL instead of practicing in the NHL.
It’s more than just a Rangers-Islanders game on Saturday. For several players, this might as well be a playoff game. Their futures will be decided over one 60-minute hockey game in Bridgeport, Connecticut.