The New York Rangers kicked off their official 2014-15 campaign today with medical assessments and some off-ice preparation ahead of tomorrow's first work-out. Many of the veterans have been skating in Greenburgh for the past few weeks, while many of the prospects wrapped up a 1-1-2 record in the Traverse City Tournament that completed Tuesday.
The last few years have been a little crazy for the Blueshirts, what with games in Europe, rennovations to MSG and a coaching change. This year might be about as normal as they come by contrast, with just six preseason games - two against each of the Devils, Blackhawks and Flyers.
Sixty three players will attend camp, with 17 or 18 of the 20 starting spots seemingly already decided. The defense and goaltending look set, with veteran Dan Boyle replacing Anton Stralman as the only change from the team that finished the season last year.
At forward, the top eight or nine looks pretty set, although there was some speculation earlier in the week - from Larry Brooks - that the Rangers may look to put Martin St. Louis on the top line with Chris Kreider and Derek Stepan, and move Rick Nash back to the left wing to play with Derrick Brassard and Mats Zuccarello on a new second line.
As to the composition of the third and fourth lines, that's anyone's guess at this point. Matthew Lombardi, J.T. Miller, Oscar Lindberg or even Kevin Hayes could center a third line with Lee Stempniak and Carl Hagelin on the wings.
Ryan Malone and Tanner Glass could then pair with Dominic Moore on the fourth, if Moore isn't considered for the third line that is. Throw in the possibility that Miller, Hayes or even a guy like Ryan Haggerty could make in on the wing, and you've got a whole range of combinations you could choose from. And we haven't even mentioned Jesper Fast, who made a surprise start to the season last year, in part thanks to injuries to Carl Hagelin and Ryan Callahan.
The Rangers will also want to get a look at a number of the depth signings and prospects they've added over the off-season. Chris Mueller, Nick Tarnasky, Chris Bourque, Steven Kampfer, Matt Hunwick, Mike Kostka, Chris McCarthy, Matt Bodie, Peter Zamorsky, Cedrick Desjardins and the draft class of 2014 will all get their first taste of a Rangers training camp, and several of those will get a chance to play in the preseason to further their case for inclusion later into the year.
Invitees from Traverse City, along with Wolf Pack signing Ryan Potulny, will simply be looking to impress enough to push for contracts either at the AHL level, or a future NHL contract should the Rangers manage to clear some space on their 50 current commitments.
Of the prospects, it'll be worth keeping an eye on the likes of Hayes, Haggerty, Fast, Lindberg and Miller - if you can still call him that. These are the guys who are seemingly the closest to making the transition, On defense watch for Connor Allen and Dylan McIlrath, who both got to make their NHL debuts last season, but still have yet to secure a regular spot. Matt Bodie is also worth a look if he gets to stick around, though could well be an early cut to focus on preparing for the Wolf Pack.
In net youngsters Brandon Halverson and Mackenzie Skapski are years away from competing at the NHL, but have already got plenty of fans following them.
Finally, it'll be worth seeing how Alain Vigneault prepares for a normal training camp after last year's awful start to the season that ultimately turned into the Rangers first Stanley Cup Final appearance since 1994.