Rangers Fine-Tuning in the Preseason


The New York Rangers have added key pieces to bolster their roster. (Courtesy of Twitter)

After a number of additions and departures throughout the offseason, it’s hard to tell exactly where the New York Rangers stand compared to their explosive 2021-22 season. With training camp underway and preseason games on the horizon, there are three major concerns that have carried over from last season. These include finding a suitable sixth defenseman for the third pair, establishing roles for the many returning young forwards and weighing options in the backup goalie department. Head coach Gerard Gallant has several decisions to make.

Finding a defensive partner for Braden Schneider is imperative for the Rangers’ success this season. With the departure of Justin Braun and Patrick Nemeth, there is not a standout, NHL-ready player to immediately fill the gap. Of those with some league experience, Zac Jones and Libor Hajek appear to be the frontrunners for the spot. Jones put up a stellar performance in the first preseason game against the Islanders, scoring a goal and blocking two shots. Without Adam Fox in the lineup, he was given some power play time, which is sure to be beneficial if he makes the roster. Hajek on the other hand, is minus three in two games, meaning he’s been on the ice for three goals against the Rangers. He has a few more opportunities to improve his subpar play before the opening night roster is announced.

In the forwards department, there are many decisions that Gallant needs to make after several offseason departures. The notorious “kid line” that performed well in the playoffs is expected to remain for the time being, consisting of Alexis Lafrenière, Kaapo Kakko and Filip Chytil. The areas of concern are the first and second-line right wing positions and a center/right wing on the fourth line. After his return from a season-ending ACL tear, Sammy Blais is expected to fill one of these spots. With his flexible and adaptable style of play, he could really fit into any one of them, as a scorer on the top two lines or a physical right wing on the fourth line.

After a season in Russia, Vitali Kravstov returned to New York and looks to make the roster after playing only a few regular season games in 2020. The forward is expected to be named to the roster after notable improvement in Russia, taking the 11th of 12 forward positions. This 12th spot will likely be filled by Jimmy Vesey, a veteran and returning Ranger after stints with the Vancouver Canucks, New Jersey Devils, Toronto Maple Leafs and Buffalo Sabres. Brennan Othmann, a 19-year-old winger, looked promising in his two games but was ultimately sent back to the Ontario Hockey League for another development year.
None of the lines are set in stone, so fans will likely see numerous different line combinations, especially among the bottom six. Chris Kreider and Mika Zibanejad will undoubtedly remain together on the first line and the same goes for Artemi Panarin and Vincent Trocheck on the second line.

The final overarching concern is a solid backup goalie. With the loss of Alexander Georgiev, there is no longer an established backup, so the Rangers signed Jaroslav Halak and Louis Domingue in the offseason. They tested Dylan Garand, a 20-year-old coming off of a World Juniors championship, and Olaf Lindbom in the first three preseason games but eventually sent them down to their AHL affiliate in Hartford. Halak and Domingue will likely remain on the roster for this season.

The opening night roster could shake out in many different ways, but much of the core group that performed well in the playoffs remain. If these points are addressed, the season should have similar success to the last. Fans will look forward to another potential deep playoff run with this promising group of players, as the Stanley Cup window is wide open.