As preseason finishes up, Gallant facing some tough decisions, top six not set, Chytil line impressive, questions entering season

They’ve played five of six preseason games. After falling to the Bruins 5-4 in what can best be described as an incomplete exhibition that bothered coach Gerard Gallant, there are more questions surrounding what the Rangers will decide with the roster.

That’s what happens when nobody grabs the top two right wing openings by standing out. Instead, Gallant has continued to tryout different options with Mika Zibanejad and Chris Kreider on the first line. None really are long-term solutions.

The latest player to get a look is Jimmy Vesey. On a pro tryout, he has impressed the coaching staff with his hard-working style and tenacity. In his first two games, Vesey produced a goal and two assists.

Once highly thought of in his first stint after signing as a college free agent, he scored 16 goals once and 17 twice in his first three seasons all spent in Manhattan. His best ever year saw him put ip 35 points. However, the Rangers let him move on.

After totaling 49 goals over a three-year stretch, Vesey only totaled 22 over the past four seasons. Not shockingly, he played for four different teams. They included the Sabres, Maple Leafs, Canucks and most recently the Devils. It was mostly in a fourth line role where he also killed penalties. He had two shorthanded goals for New Jersey in ’21-22 and finished with eight goals and seven assists for 15 points in 68 contests.

If the 29-year old Vesey has been a bright spot during training camp even receiving praise from Chris Kreider, then the same cannot be echoed for Vitaly Kravtsov. The former 2018 first round pick hasn’t distinguished himself in his third camp. While he has gotten some time with Artemi Panarin, he’s only had an assist in the preseason.

At 22, this is the last chance for Kravtsov. With the AHL not an option due to having to clear waivers, the puck is on his stick. It’s up to him to make things happen. He’s been handed a unique opportunity. But if he isn’t ready to play in the top six, perhaps Gallant would be better off bumping up Kaapo Kakko after his two-goal game on Wednesday night.

The issue is Turk prefers to keep the cohesive third line of Kakko, Filip Chytil and Alexis Lafreniere together. They have excellent chemistry. In fact, it’s been the splendid play of the former first round picks that’s been the highlight of camp. They use their speed in transition and are able to generate scoring chances off the cycle.

It becomes a question of what’s best for the team. Even when he got a look with Panarin, Chytil was more impressive than Vincent Trocheck, who they signed to replace Panarin sidekick Ryan Strome. It could take some time for Trocheck to gel with Panarin. Last night, Gallant had the second line intact with Kravtsov. They had a bad game, going a combined minus-7.

Obviously, more is expected from the second line. If he decides to start Kravtsov there, it’s sink or swim under Turk. Remember too that he can healthy scratch the Russian if he’s not getting it done. At least he understands things a little better this time.

“Every day is a new day,” Kravtsov told Vince Mercogliano in a piece that appeared in USA Today. “If I’m not on that line, I don’t have to be mad at somebody. I know I didn’t play well, but I’m trying to be better. I think everybody sees that. That’s life. Sometimes you go through changes, and I just have to do what I can do – focus on what I can control.

I expect myself to be better. “My body feels good, but I still feel like I have a lot of work to do.”

The issue is the players who could make the roster aren’t top six material. It’ll be an interesting choice between Dryden Hunt, Ryan Carpenter and Julien Gauthier. Having reassigned Jonny Brodzinski to Hartford earlier today, it’s coming down to decision time for the Rangers.

With Barclay Goodrow, Sammy Blais and Ryan Reaves locks for the roster, it’ll be up to Gallant to decide who he prefers. Unlike Vesey, who deserves a contract for his play in camp, it’s an interesting choice between Hunt, Carpenter and Gauthier. One likely won’t be in the Big Apple when the puck is dropped for Tuesday’s season opener against the Lightning.

With it all but guaranteed that both Zac Jones and Libor Hajek will be kept to give the Blueshirts seven defensemen, Gallant will have to make a difficult cut. By cutting Gustav Rydahl, who actually opened some eyes, that means the Rangers can decide to open with either a 22 or 23- man roster.

That depends on what the organization thinks would be best. Especially given the salary cap situation. Figure Chris Drury to be directly involved in what they decide.

That could work against a fringe player like Gauthier, who’s had a strong camp. As usual, the 24-year old right wing has been visible with his aggressive play and hustle on the forecheck. However, he still suffers from a lack of finish. The question is is he worth keeping. Maybe Gauthier needs a change of scenery. Especially when he won’t get into too many games.

The final tuneup is tomorrow night when the Rangers visit UBS Arena to face the Islanders. With Ryan Lindgren nicked up (already), you could see Adam Fox and K’Andre Miller pair up. They worked together in practice.

For Saturday’s game at least, Kravtsov isn’t expected to play. He skated on the fifth line in practice with Hunt and Gauthier.

If that’s what the lineup is for the sixth and final exhibition game, Gallant wants to take a look at Kakko with Zibanejad and Kreider. Why not? I’m not exactly crazy about the other choices. Vesey would work with Panarin and Trocheck on the second line.

You’d have Goodrow filling in for Kakko with Chytil and Lafreniere on the third line. Carpenter would center the checking line with Blais and Reaves providing the beef. It’s just another chance for Gallant to take a look at different options.

That he remains undecided this long into camp isn’t positive. You have to wonder what exactly the Opening Night lineup will consist of. Andrew Copp, Frank Vatrano, Ryan Strome and Tyler Motte, who’s fitting in well so far on a third line in Ottawa, are long gone.

These are the questions Gallant must be able to answer during the season. Hopefully, some of the aforementioned players will step it up.


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 Hudson administrator and chief editor can be followed below on Twitter and Facebook.
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