Rangers Open Training Camp, Storylines to follow, drop preseason game to Islanders, Lundqvist jersey to be retired against Zuccarello and Wild


When it comes to autumn, it’s usually hockey time. Even though it begins a bit later due to last season’s July finish, here we are with training camps finally underway. Some opened Wednesday while others such as the Rangers officially opened this past Thursday in Greenburgh at the team’s practice facility.

As we follow training camp and preseason with believe it or not, the Rangers’ first game against who else but the Islanders Sunday night (4-0 loss what else is new), this is a good time to look at some storylines. Before we take a glimpse into that, let’s first unveil the training camp roster. I’ve updated the roster with an asterisk indicating the players who have been cut. If they have a * next to their name, they’ve either been assigned to their Junior team or reassigned to Hartford.

The full breakdown went from 60 players to 47 within 72 hours. Undoubtedly, there will be more roster cuts coming. They can keep up to 23 players on the roster when it gets going on October 13 against the Capitals. The breakdown for now is 28 26 forwards, 14 defensemen and 5 goalies. Make that 45 with both Matt Rempe and Karl Henrikkson assigned to their respective clubs. For Henrikkson, it’s back to Frolunda for one more year. As we know, it’ll likely become 13 forwards, 7 D and 2 goalies unless Gallant opts to keep 3 netminders. That’ll largely depend on what shakes out between Alex Georgiev and Keith Kinkaid during camp.

FORWARDS

10 Artemi Panarin

13 Alexis Lafreniere

14 Greg McKegg

15 Julien Gauthier

16 Ryan Strome

17 Kevin Rooney

20 Chris Kreider

21 Barclay Goodrow

24 Kaapo Kakko

26 Tim Gettinger

28 Anthony Greco

29 Dryden Hunt

*38 Evan Vierling

47 Morgan Barron

49 Lauri Pajuniemi

50 William Cuylle

*58 James Sanchez

59 Ty Ronning

*62 Alex Whelan

*63 Jake Elmer

*70 Karl Henrikkson

72 Filip Chytil

*73 Matt Rempe

74 Vitali Kravtsov

76 Jonny Brodzinski

78 Brennan Othmann

*82 Patrick Khodorenko

*83 Ryder Korczak

85 Austin Rueschhoff

86 Tanner Fritz

90 Justin Richards

91 Sammy Blais

*92 Michael O’Leary

93 Mika Zibanejad

*96 Jayden Grubbe

DEFENSEMEN

5 Jarred Tinordi

6 Zac Jones

8 Jacob Trouba

12 Patrik Nemeth

22 Anthony Bitetto

23 Adam Fox

25 Libor Hajek

44 Matthew Robertson

45 Braden Schneider

*48 Zach Berzolla

*53 Hunter Skinner

51 Tarmo Reunanen

54 Mason Geertsen

55 Ryan Lindgren

64 Nils Lundkvist

79 K’Andre Miller

*87 Zach Giuttari

GOALTENDERS

31 Igor Shesterkin

32 Adam Huska

40 Alex Georgiev

*56 Talyn Boyko

71 Keith Kinkaid

80 Tyler Wall

*98 Dylan Garand

One of the things I like so far is how candid new Rangers coach Gerard Gallant was with the New York media at his first true press conference. He didn’t say anything he didn’t mean. There was no hesitation. On the subject of naming a captain, Gallant was very forthcoming by indicating that they will have one. Under former coach David Quinn, the team didn’t have one after the trade of Ryan McDonagh to the Lightning. So, they’ve gone two seasons without a captain. Even if the recent ’21 season was abbreviated due to the schedule which was regional due to the pandemic.

That brings me to the top storyline. The time is now for this team. It’s no longer a rebuild. Patience will not be preached. There’s enough experience in that room for players to provide leadership. The question for Gallant to answer is who will the next Rangers captain be. The candidates are Chris Kreider, Mika Zibanejad, Jacob Trouba and Adam Fox. While a good portion of the fan base wants Fox to be named, the truth is he’s only been in the league two years. Neither were normal. But then again, is anything ever going to be again? Not with teams disallowing unvaccinated players and coaches to participate. You don’t see that in the NBA. So, they’re telling me that no one will test positive if every NHL personnel is vaccinated? We know better. It is what it is. Be prepared for more players on the virus list. Hopefully, it won’t be as bad as the past season. You had games postponed and rescheduled. I’m certain they’ll take no chances.

What about having a short-term captain until either Fox or Alexis Lafreniere grows into the role? The dilemma for the organization is it’s hard to tell a player they’re no longer captain. That’s assuming Kreider, Zibanejad or Trouba aren’t moved. Only one is playing for a contract. That would be Zibanejad, who has had discussions with the team on an extension. If I’m them, I wait. There’s no reason to give him one now. Let Zibanejad earn it. It can always happen next year around February or March if he wants to stay. It will largely depend on how the team is doing along with his performance. They want to make the playoffs. Zibanejad said it on Thursday during a press conference.

If the playoffs are the goal, that has to be the second storyline. Playing in a tough Metropolitan Division which includes the Islanders, Hurricanes, Capitals, Penguins and Flyers, the Rangers know they must earn it. Nothing will be given to them. That means their top players performing at a more consistent level against the division’s upper echelon teams. Something that was a problem for last season’s team. Even Artemi Panarin didn’t produce the way he can against the Islanders in those three critical games. It is about the team honoring their commitment to winning. That’s what it’s all about.

One point Gallant made was that ice time will be earned. That’s a refreshing approach to what we saw. There are going to be opportunities for players. Whether it be someone secondary like Julien Gauthier or Morgan Barron, who both are vying for roster spots, there will be chances for guys to get in the lineup and have an impact. The same can be echoed for rookie defenseman Nils Lundkvist, who must earn a job before anyone anoints him. In NYC, we have this arrogance of penciling young players into a lineup before they’ve done anything. If Lundkvist is ready, then he’ll slot in on the third pair and get power play time.

Don’t forget the Blueshirts signed veterans Patrik Nemeth and Jarred Tinordi. If the top four is set with Fox, Ryan Lindgren, Trouba and K’Andre Miller, that leaves two openings for the top six. Don’t forget Zac Jones, who does have NHL experience and looked good in his brief stint. He was the best player at Rookie Camp. Both Matthew Robertson and Braden Schneider will be given a chance to see what they can do during preseason. So too will the forgotten Libor Hajek and Tarmo Reunanen. In other words, Gallant has plenty of options to choose from. He got a first look at a few with Lundkvist not making any glaring mistakes like Tinordi or Bitetto in a sleep inducing 4-0 shutout to the Islanders. It was more of the same with the Isles’ fourth line dominating. Don’t read too much into it. Ryan Reaves, Kevin Rooney and Sammy Blais didn’t play.

With Gallant, who is nicknamed Turk, he is a different and more experienced coach than David Quinn. He’s had success in the league with both Florida and Vegas. The latter where he did an amazing job taking the expansion Golden Knights to the Stanley Cup Final in their inaugural season. They made the playoffs under him before Vegas pulled the rug out from underneath him. Peter DeBoer replaced Turk and has had similar success, but they were upset by the Canadiens last season. So, no return to the Cup Final since Gallant in Year One. He’s a guy who’s had success as a player doing it mostly as a Detroit Red Wing. He knows the game and has a dry wit which I think the New York media will like. Take his response to a question about how reigning Norris winner Fox. He definitely was impressed and gave a funny reaction and grinned to laughter. His honesty will be refreshing. Early indications is he’s not a yeller like Quinn during practice. That’ll probably help team chemistry.

I don’t want to make a big deal out of Artemi Panarin’s comments to the media about how they now have a winning coach. I don’t look at it as a shot at Quinn. He’s not that kind of player. He was likely being honest and probably is excited about the challenge under Turk. Artemi is 30 and in his prime. He wants to return to the playoffs like Zibanejad and Kreider, who both must be dying to play meaningful hockey again. I’m not referring to a lopsided Play In Series either. There’s also no point in discussing further Panarin’s past issues off the ice last winter. He’s not interested in politics thankfully. I wish it was that way for everyone.

In terms of other storylines, I’m curious to see how much of an impact Barclay Goodrow can have on his new teammates. He’s a two-time Stanley Cup winner with necessary championship experience who brings the grit and intangibles this team lacked. I know Sunday night wasn’t the start he had in mind. But I thought the boarding major and game misconduct was overkill. It was worth a double minor. Refs are also still getting acclimated. Let’s leave it at that. Don’t forget Goodrow’s outlet to Kreider for a shorthanded breakaway Ilya Sorokin stopped him on. He also missed on a pass from Kravtsov in front. Gallant seems to like Goodrow with Chytil and Kravtsov. Keep an eye on that line.

Obviously, adding the tough and physical Reaves should help in the heavyweight department. One thing about him. He has character and understands what he’s been brought in for. No. It’s not just to go after Tom Wilson in the first game. It’s to make other tough players accountable. That means the Identity Line that scored three of the Isles’ four goals even minus Matt Martin. When Ross Johnston is scoring on you, that’s bad. But it’s preseason. Relax. Like Heath Ledger’s Joker said in a classic scene, “Let’s not blow things out of proportion.” Reaves was successful under Gallant and will provide that energy along with Blais and likely Kevin Rooney unless Barron can crack the lineup. He won six of eleven face-offs last night. An area that must improve.

What about the crowd at the World’s Most Vaccinated Arena? I mean it is what it is. With New York in a totalitarian state due to the controversial Vaccine Passports, there’ll be even less fans at these games than before. Not everyone wants to show papers to see games or concerts. I’m fully vaxxed, but think they’ve gone overboard. As someone who suffers from anxiety, the past 18 months haven’t helped me personally. I can’t ever see myself returning to MSG. I don’t view things the same. I dislike the city for personal reasons and don’t feel comfortable in big crowds. For those who go, I would advise you not to hang around too many people. I have avoided hangouts and such. I guess I’m just cautious. Hasan basically noted it in his Devils column. The Garden had already lost its atmosphere due to the renovation. What do you think it’ll sound like now?

I don’t want to harp on Covid after what I mentioned in the previous paragraph. We can’t ever feel right about this. I can enjoy games watching from home whether it be downstairs or from my phone streaming. I feel lucky to have been to so many Rangers games. The last 25 years have been amazing. Even the Dark Ages were special due to all the friends we made in our old Section 411. There’s too many memories to list. I’ll always remember Gretzky and Messier playing for the final time along with all the jersey retirements, and Game Six when they shutout Montreal 1-0 to wrap up the Conference Finals and win the Wales Trophy. I never thought that would happen along with experiencing a Stanley Cup game. The energy in ’14 was incredible. The way they rallied around Martin St. Louis. The Mother’s Day game. The 3-1 comebacks against the Pens and Caps in consecutive years during the second round. And right now, the Mika Zibanejad Five Goal Game remains as the last memory. The best regular season game we ever attended. I hope they can produce more memories for the fans who do go.

How much improvement will we see from Kaapo Kakko in Year Three? There’s no doubt the former ’19 second overall pick improved his overall game and skating last year. If he’s to take the next step, Kakko must score more goals. Consistency will be the key. He’s being given the keys to Pavel Buchnevich’s old spot. It seems that Kakko will start with Panarin and Ryan Strome on the other first line while Lafreniere gets to play with Zibanejad and Kreider. There is pressure for Kakko to perform both at even strength and on the power play. I feel like he needs to match his number 24 in goals and pop six or seven on the man-advantage.

Kravtsov has less games than Kakko. But I like what I saw from the talented Russian in a month’s time. While he only wound up with two goals and two assists, it looked like he belonged. The ability to skate into open space and make plays is apparent. He has a nice touch. This is a unique young player to watch. I think if he can prove himself, maybe Kravtsov could play his way into the Calder race. But he’s likely on the third line and might not get a lot of power play time. He’ll have to earn it.

One thing GM Chris Drury did was bring in former retired NHL linesman Pierre Racicot to help the team’s centers work on face-offs. A sore spot in recent seasons with the Rangers ranking dead last in ’21, they must improve in that area. There were too many instances where a key defensive draw was lost resulting in a goal allowed. Being able to win more face-offs is critical to having puck possession and limiting the opponent’s time. Gallant wants to see them get better. If Sunday was any early indication, it helped as Zibanejad won more than he lost as did Barron. Chytil lost seven of eleven taken. It’s a place the young third center must make strides in.

There really isn’t much else to cover from the past few days. The first preseason game was blah. Anytime you lose 4-0 to the Islanders, there’s not much to say. They were sharp while our guys weren’t. The reason Goodrow got ejected for the boarding major is it drew blood. That’s the new rule. It wasn’t the worst hit from behind. It is what it is. He looked to have early chemistry with Kravtsov and Chytil. Regarding boarding, I believe all penalties should be either four or five minutes because it’s dangerous. Two minutes is too light. They’re supposed to be cracking down on crosschecks. We’ll see.

One big update that fans already have huge interest in. Henrik Lundqvist will have his jersey retired against the Minnesota Wild on January 28, 2022. His number 30 will go up to the rafters joining Ed Giacomin and Mike Richter as the only Ranger goalies to have their number retired. It’s hard to believe they never honored Dave Kerr or Chuck Rayner. They don’t do a good job recognizing their past. As has been discussed, Frank Boucher, Bill and Bun Cook haven’t been honored either. The Bread Line that helped the franchise win two Cups. You also could make strong cases for Brad Park and Ron Greschner. Whatever the case maybe, it would be nice to see an Original Six franchise honor their past. Something that’s covered in great detail by Sean McCaffrey in his Rangers book, The New York Rangers Rink of Honor and the Rafters of Madison Square Garden.

As you can see, the demand is high for tickets to witness Henrik Lundqvist take his place among a list of great Rangers. There won’t be any problem selling those tickets. Especially with Lundqvist close friend and former teammate Mats Zuccarello in the building along with ex-backup Cam Talbot, who also played an instrumental role during the ’14-15 season. I can see why they chose the Wild as the opponent. The close relationship between Lundqvist and Zuccarello is a factor. If they didn’t select that game, my guess was the Carolina Hurricanes due to former Blueshirts Jesper Fast, Brady Skjei, Brendan Smith, Derek Stepan and Tony DeAngelo. They’ve replaced the Lightning as the new Rangers South.

As someone who knows I won’t be at the arena for that special night, I’ve been very fortunate to witness the jersey retirements of Mike Richter, Mark Messier, Brian Leetch, Adam Graves, Harry Howell, Andy Bathgate, Jean Ratelle and Vic Hadfield. I have no complaints. It’s time for a new generation of fans to experience such a memorable night. That is one that the building will be packed for.

I can only hope by that point of the season, the Rangers will have gelled into a good team competing for a top four spot in the division. They know what’s at stake. It’s playoffs or bust. I’ll have more tomorrow night following the second exhibition against the Bruins. Expect to see Reaves and Blais with Rooney as the new fourth line gets its feet wet. Plus hopefully Zac Jones, Braden Schneider, Matthew Robertson and first round pick Brennan Othmann. Kakko with Strome and Panarin. Until then.

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Derek Felix

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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