Derek Stepan will likely miss the first month of the season due to a fractured fibula in his left leg. The Minnesota native collapsed during conditioning exercises yesterday after exacerbating an injury thought to have occurred back on September 9th during informal skates, when he blocked a shot.
The news of the injury is disappointing of course, but as Larry Brooks pointed out today, it's better that it happened now, than later in the year. The loss of Stepan probably primarily benefits J.T. Miller, who now appears most likely to earn a spot on the opening night roster. The options on who would be the fourth center remain less certain however.
Dominic Moore could certainly step up to a bigger role, which would allow the likes of Chris Mueller or Matthew Lombardi to step in as the fourth line center. Both players had modest starts to their pre-season on Monday, but could potentially be the backfills for the vacant spot, should Moore move up.
On the rookie front, Oscar Lindberg now appears to have a good shot at convincing the coaching staff he's ready to make the jump, should he put in a creditable performance tomorrow night against the Chicago Blackhawks.
By contrast, Kevin Hayes appears more likely now to be competing for a spot on the wing if comments today by coach Alain Vigneault are to be taken at face value. Having played the last two years of his term at Boston College on the wing, it may be that the Rangers now feel that the free agent rookie might be best suited to a less challenging roll as he attempts to move into the pro ranks.
Another option would be Martin St. Louis, who stepped up today to offer his services if need be. St. Louis said he could play the pivot position if need be, though Vigneault initially down-played the likelihood at this point. If he was to move to center, then one of the likes of Jesper Fast, Ryan Haggerty, Marek Hrivik and Anthony Duclair - among others - might find their chances of making the opening line-up a little more likely.