Vigneault faces tough decisions ahead

Glass Half Full: Tanner Glass celebrates his first goal with Kevin Hayes and Matt Hunwick.  AP Photo by Adrian Wyld of The Canadian Press

Glass Half Full: Tanner Glass celebrates his first goal with Kevin Hayes and Matt Hunwick.
AP Photo by Adrian Wyld of The Canadian Press

The preseason continues for the Rangers tonight when they visit Newark to face the Devils. It’ll be their fourth exhibition with two more to come at home against the Flyers Sept. 28 and Bruins Sept. 30.

Following tonight’s game, Rangers coach Alain Vigneault will make more cuts getting the roster under 30. A few prospects have stood out including Oscar Lindberg, who should be a lock. He’s scored in two games and displayed versatility by shifting to wing on a line with Jarret Stoll. The 23-year old Swede can’t be sent down to Hartford without clearing waivers. That won’t be necessary.

A couple of other young players who have made an impression are Brady Skjei and Dylan McIlrath. The 21-year old Skjei has higher upside as a smooth skating two-way defenseman who should fit into Vigneault’s system eventually. He’s demonstrated good defensive skills and also contributed offensively thus far. With the Rangers’ starting six on the back end set, Skjei will likely start in Hartford where he can continue to develop.

As for McIlrath, 23, it’s do or die. He either does enough to make it or winds up elsewhere. He can’t be sent down without clearing waivers. There’s something to be said for his skill set. A big physical defenseman, McIlrath could become the team’s new tough guy replacing Tanner Glass, who is fighting for his job. Glass went after Zac Rinaldo in Thursday’s loss to Boston after the ex-Flyer antagonist ran roughshod. With Vigneault liking what he’s seen from other forwards, there’s no guarantee Glass will survive. It would make sense to send him down due to his contract which pays him an average of $1.45 million over the next two years. He’d probably clear.

One further point on McIlrath. If the Rangers keep him, what the heck did they sign Raphael Diaz for? Nothing against Diaz who is a serviceable seventh defenseman who can fill the void left by Matt Hunwick (signed with Leafs). But why carry eight D when Vigneault has a starting six of Ryan McDonagh, Dan Girardi, Marc Staal, Dan Boyle, Keith Yandle and Kevin Klein? Eventually, maybe new GM Jeff Gorton moves Klein who has a cap friendly contract that averages $3 million per season over the next three years.

If you break it down by position, the Blueshirts don’t have many spots available. However, they still are taking long looks at Mat Bodie, Ryan Bourque along with vets Brian Gibbons, Jayson Megna and Chris Summers. Luke Adam, Matt Lindblad and 20-year old D prospect Ryan Graves also remain along with goalie Magnus Hellberg.

Emerson Etem has yet to distinguish himself. Unlike Viktor Stalberg who seems to have carved his niche as a dependable energy guy, the former Duck needs a strong finish. He’s in the lineup tonight. Here is the Rangers lineup for Saturday:

Goalies: Lundqvist, Raanta

Defensemen: Girardi, McIlrath, Diaz, Staal, Summers, Bodie

Forwards: Miller, Hayes, Glass, Adam, Fast, Kreider, Stepan, Megna, Lindberg, Stalberg, Moore, Etem

About Derek Felix

Derek Felix is sports blogger whose previous experience included separate stints at ESPN as a stat researcher for NHL and WNBA telecasts. The Staten Island native also interned for or hockey historian Stan Fischler and worked behind the scenes for MSG as a production assistant on New Jersey Devil telecasts. An avid New York sports fan who enjoys covering events, writing, concerts, movies and the outdoors, Derek has covered consecutive Staten Island Yankees NY Penn League championships in '05 and '06. He also scored Berkeley Carroll high school basketball games from '06-14 and provided an outlet for the Park Slope school's student athletes. Hitting Back gives them the publicity they deserve. In his free time, he also attends Ranger games and is a loyal St. John's alum with a sports management degree. The Battle Of New York administrator and chief editor can be followed below on Twitter and Facebook.
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