It’s only been a week since training camp opened. Over that brief time, coach David Quinn was so impressed with K’Andre Miller that he gave the rookie defenseman a ringing endorsement a few days ago.
The 20-year old left defenseman spent two years playing college hockey at Wisconsin. He also represented Team USA at the ’19 and ’20 World Junior Championships. Even though he disappointed last year, Miller returned to the Badgers and put up 18 points (7-11-18) in 36 games. Unfortunately, due to COVID-19, there was no Frozen Four.
Following his sophomore year, Miller signed an entry-level contract (ELC) with the Rangers to turn pro. Were they rushing the former forward who converted to defenseman? Based on how he handled himself while getting to practice with the team in the playoff bubble, the coaching staff liked what they saw. Even though he wasn’t eligible to play against the Hurricanes, there was optimism. That has continued with a strong camp with Quinn liking Miller enough to pair him with Jacob Trouba.
In doing so, it looks like Tony DeAngelo will start on the third pair with Jack Johnson. The veteran replacement for Marc Staal. Of course, the only pair that’ll stay intact is the cohesive second tandem of Ryan Lindgren with Adam Fox. They were so effective during their rookie year that Quinn leaned on them a lot with former assistant Lindy Ruff, who takes over the Devils.
The defense is more interesting. If Miller proves he can stick and play responsible minutes, you have another recent former first round pick cracking the roster. Defense isn’t an easy transition at the NHL level. The Rangers will have to remain patient with Miller. There’ll be mistakes. It’s how he learns and responds from those mistakes that’ll determine his rookie season.
With number one center Mika Zibanejad finally cleared to practice with the team three days before the home season opener versus the Islanders, he’ll have to catch up quickly with cohesive line mates Chris Kreider and Pavel Buchnevich. Considering the chemistry they have, that shouldn’t be an issue. In one of the scrimmages, they played well with fourth line center Brett Howden. Howden had a goal and assist. He’ll slide back down to anchor Brendan Lemieux and Phil Di Giuseppe.
For now, Quinn is sticking with his top six. In an important second year after struggling in ’19-20, Kaapo Kakko looks to take a leap up on the second line where he’ll replace departed right wing Jesper Fast (Canes) to play with Ryan Strome and Artemi Panarin. It’s a great opportunity for Kakko to benefit from playing with Panarin, who is one of the game’s best players. Strome fits in well with Panarin due to his unselfish nature and skating. One would th*ink Kakko will have plenty of scoring chances while teamed with those two. We’ll see if he can take advantage.
So much hype is surrounding top pick Alexis Lafreniere. The super gifted Canadian scoring left wing is a fast skater who can do things with the puck at a high level. The former 2020 WJC Most Valuable Player is the kind of future star the Rangers haven’t had. They never picked first since the Entry Draft was formed. It’s true that they got lucky by losing in three to Carolina to somehow win the lottery. Now, it’s showtime for the wiz kid from Quebec City.
The good thing is there won’t be as much pressure at the start. He’ll slot in on the third line with Filip Chytil and Julien Gauthier. It’s a golden opportunity for Chytil to raise his level. He’s shown flashes so far, but hasn’t been consistent. We’ll see if he can take the next step in his development. Gauthier was acquired from Carolina last year. A player with a willingness to work, he has some power forward moves to his game. While it might be a stretch for him to be in the top nine, it’s an opportunity to see what he is capable of. He’ll be asked to do the grunt work on the new line.
For now, it’s Howden back at center on the fourth line with agitator Lemieux and skater Di Giuseppe. Howden had a good abbreviated miniseries. He wins draws and will play penalty kill. Something we should also see the energetic Lemieux do. The Grate One must play on the edge without going overboard. He will finish checks and stand up for teammates. But he also is capable of potting a few goals. They need him to draw penalties. Not lose discipline. Di Giuseppe was solid after his recall. He’s a good skater who works hard. The fourth line has potential to be trusted. Will Quinn show enough faith to play them regularly?
The goalies are Igor Shestyorkin and Alex Georgiev. They’re a young tandem. Shestyorkin will be expected to prove himself following the brilliance he showed. Don’t forget it was not that many games. We’ll see how he handles the pressure. Georgiev has been a good backup with lots of character. He handled a tough situation well last year. Now, it’s just him and Shestyorkin. Consistency will be the key in net in the post Lundqvist Era.
Former Devil Kevin Rooney is the extra forward. He is a hardworking center who kills penalties. Not a bad pickup. Will we see Morgan Barron? It all depends what happens with the fourth line.
Veteran Brendan Smith is the extra defenseman. He practiced with prospect Matthew Robertson, who’ll likely be reassigned to his junior team.
The Rangers placed the following players on waivers. Some will report to the taxi squad.