UPDATE-----Derek Stepan was helped off the ice after pushing off doing a sprint drill today at Rangers practice according to Bleacher Report. It has been reported as a fracture of the fibula. If it is a stress fracture it can be around 4-6 weeks but if it a break, it can be 2 months or more by past players injury recovery times.
You can see by the Rangers 1st preseason game, a 5-4 loss to the team out of Newark, that the Rangers main goal of the first few games is clearly to figure out who will make the opening night roster. While the opposition puts out players they know will play vital roles during their season, the Rangers matched those lines with AHL/rookies to see if they prove worthy of a spot. Coach Alain Vigneault has said in interviews that he would like to start with 8 defensemen and 13 forwards along with Henrik Lundqvist and Cam Talbot if the cap money would allow it. Most likely the cap will allow 13 forwards and 7 defensemen, but depending on what options they choose, Sather and Gorton can give the coach what he wants and that would put the Rangers right up against the cap by around $200,000.
In the opening preseason game, the Rangers organization were clearly looking at the defensemen while getting Anton Stralman's replacement icetime in a new system and to get comfortable with his new partner and Rangers solid 2nd pairing Dman Marc Staal (who is in contract negotiations to date. His brother Jordan suffered an injury in an exhibition game that required him to have his leg casted and walking on crutches with a broken bone in his right leg). Dan Boyle didn't have a shot on net while Staal had 2 shots on net and neither stood out as would be expected at this early part of their playing together. John Moore seems to have an edge to his game this season as seen in the inter-team scrimmage and this first game, maybe because of the contract he had to settle for and has something to prove this year.
The other 3 defensemen were signed this offseason for the 7-8-9 spots and were given every opportunity to prove themselves early on in this process and all 3 left you wanting alot more out of each of them. They were all used on the penalty kill for over 3 minutes and Kampfer was actually used for 5 minutes in that situation. Hunwick was even given 3 minutes on the powerplay. All 3 of those defensemen will probably given another chance and hopefully for their NHL dream, they have a better showing. By what we saw in the first game, it would seem the door is open for a player like Connor Allen or Dylan McIlrath to slide into a 7/8 spot on the club.
The forward position is where the veterans proved that they are ready to defend the Rangers Eastern Conference Championship. Chris Kreider and Carl Hagelin were flying around the ice and each scored a goal. Kreider lead the team with 4 hits and Hagelin was used for 4 minutes on the penalty kill. J.T. Miller, while winning 8 of 18 faceoffs, looks to be playing at a different level than last year and even got a look on the powerplay for 3 minutes while assisting on two of the goals. The two newest big body vets in Ryan Malone (scored a goal) and Tanner Glass (an assist and played 4 minutes on the penalty kill) will probably share a spot on the 4th line at the start of the season until either one of them prove they deserve fulltime duty.
Danny Kristo who had a year of learning the system in the AHL last season, just looked lost at times in his own zone. That has always been a concern in his hockey growth and he wants any chance of staying in the Rangers system, he needs to step up his own zone coverage ASAP. MAtt Lombardi was 6 for 14 in the faceoff circle and used for 4 minutes on the penalty kill. Hope he gets better in the system because it would be a step back for a younger player to get blocked at an NHL chance for a vet who sems to be "playing it safe".
There were a couple of players that were noticed every once in a while and either have to leave it all out on the ice and stand a chance, or figure they will be in the AHL this season. Kevin Hayes could be the type of player the Rangers have needed for years. A huge center that has a boatload of talent and a great skillset, but he may have to start in the AHL to learn this system better. He was 6 for 11 on the faceoff dot, tok a penalty, and saw 3 minutes of powerplay time. Ryan Bourque was used for 4 minutes on the penalty kill and seemed to hold his own but didn't do anything on the offensive side of the puck where he is best. Jesper Fast is the type of player that makes a coach pull his hair out. His skillset is through the roof but he doesn't "bring it" shift in and shift out. You can see by his goal that his hands are lethal but the rest of the game he was invisible. Mueller was the best center at the faceoff circle going 8 wins out of 15 attempts and that alone should put him in the conversation since that is a huge Ranger issue.
The goaltending was shockingly bad, but it is the first preseason game and some of the players in front of them will clearly not be there when the season opens. The goalie that I was impressed with in the Rangers inter-team scrimmage was Jason Missiaen who seemed to have progressed well and at 6'8" could wind up a backup in the NHL.
As the Rangers practice and get themselves ready for the rookie game against the Newark team, the process of putting together a possible Cup winning team happens behind the scenes. Will Marc Staal be signed to an extension? Will the Rangers be ready to give Dylan McIlrath and NHL chance as it's 7th or 8th dman or still feel him fighting in the AHL is best for his development? Will vets brought in take the place of kids ready for their shot at proving themselves? Will the Rangers save spots on their reserve for Pavel Buchnevich and Brady Skjei so that they can join the Rangers once their KHL and college seasons are over? Opening night can't come soon enough!!!
LET'S GO RANGERS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!