2023 TRAINING CAMP - DEFENSE

FORWARDS

DEFENSE

FIRST PAIR PROJECTION

Ryan Lindgren
Adam Fox

Normally this would be set in stone, but there are some out there who believe there’s an opportunity to reconfigure the top four by switching Ryan Lindgren with K’Andre Miller.  The pair of Miller and Jacob Trouba was inconsistent last year, while the top pair tended to get overused under Gerard Gallant.  Moving Miller here would change the look and feel of the top blueline duo, and add a little more size and reach, but would upset a combination that has been pretty effective over the years for the Rangers.

I think Laviolette might be inclined to go back to the duo, but I’m not fully convinced this is the right move, and I think there’s perhaps a window of opportunity to try something different, and create a potential top unit that really could help the team particularly on the offense without giving up too much on the defense.  It also may help Miller grow his game, by giving him a more reliable partner to work with.

In the end I think tradition overcomes the risk, but I’m not 100% sure of that outcome.

SECOND PAIR PROJECTION

K'Andre Miller
Jacob Trouba

If Laviolette doesn’t decide to break up the first pair, then we’ll see a top two pairs that remain the same.  After partially stabilizing Trouba’s game when he came into the league, both players plateaued a bit last year and it often felt like a bit of an adventure when they were on the ice.  Trouba’s initial foot speed is slow, and his decision-making (particularly during the first two months) was often questionable.  While he did seemingly inspire a turnaround for the team in December after tossing his helmet during a poor performance and loss against the Blackhawks, he remains a mixed bag in terms of defense in his own end.  More alarmingly we saw Miller make some similar poor plays, often playing too casually with the puck in his own end, and leading to turnovers of his own.

While Miller did have a career year last season with 9 goals, 34 assists and 43 points (all career highs), the Rangers will be hoping he can tighten up his play in his own end this season, and perhaps leverage his size and strength a little more effectively.

THIRD PAIR PROJECTION

Erik Gustafsson
Braden Schneider

Braden Schneider has the third pair right side defensive position locked down for the moment, but the Rangers will be hoping he can improve on his play going into year 3 as a pro.  Schneider struggled a bit at times moving the puck out of his zone, perhaps partly attributed to who he had to play with.  This season it looks like he’ll be paired up with Erik Gustafsson, a free agent signing that followed Laviolette over from the Capitals.

Gustafsson is a better skater and puck handler than pretty much all the options the Rangers have tried in this spot over the last three seasons, but does have some defensive gaps to his game that will likely cost the Rangers at time.  With that said, he could help Schneider by being the primarily distributor out of the defensive zone, and his increased mobility might give Schneider more options when he’s under pressure than the likes of Ben Harpur did last season.

Zac Jones still has an outside chance if Gustafsson falls flat, but odds are that Gustafsson will get the first shot, with Jones waiting for his opportunity as injuries and form dictate.

RESERVE CONTENDERS

Zac Jones
Connor Mackey
Ben Harpur
Matthew Robertson

This spot appears Jones’ to lose at this stage.  Now that he now has to pass through waivers, the expectation is that the Rangers will choose Jones as their 7th defenseman, and given his ability to play both sides, that doesn’t appear like a bad option.  Jones has yet to prove he can control his instincts at the AHL level, and as a smaller blueliner, he hasn’t yet shown he can match up well defensively.  There is a chance the Rangers could try and trade Jones and keep either Mackey or Harpur instead as the reserve, but if there’s not a good return – and given last year’s challenges with defensive depth – it would seem it’s more likely he’ll be the 7th D.

Connor Mackey joins the Rangers to provide some depth on the left, and could very well be next on the depth chart.   At 27 years old with just 33 games of NHL experience, it’s not as if he’s a big threat to Jones, but at 6-2 197lbs, he does have a size advantage that may appeal.   He also provides a bit more physicality than Jones, though the expectation at this point is that he’ll start the year in Hartford – assuming he passes through waivers.

Likewise Ben Harpur looks destined for the Wolf Pack.  A late signing last year, after the Rangers traded away Nils Lundkvist and lost Jarred Tinordi to Chicago on waivers – along with the underwhelming play of Andy Welinski.  Harpur ended up filling in as the sixth defenseman for 42 games last year, including a strong performance against Washington after the Rangers elected to sit Braden Schneider for the whole game, and then lost K’Andre Miller to a match penalty for spitting.

Harpur is a big body who has mobility issues, though to be fair to the big man (6-6 231lbs), he played better than others that went before him like Jack Johnson, Patrik Nemeth and the aforementioned Tinordi.

The final longshot would be Matthew Robertson.  The 22 year old is entering the final year of his ELC, and is coming off a solid prospect camp where he looked perhaps the best of a fairly weak defensive unit.  Robertson almost certainly will end up in Hartford, where he’ll look to try and establish himself as a top defensive option for the Pack

DEPTH

Nikolas Brouillard
Ty Emberson
Mac Hollowell
Brandon Scanlin

A pair of free agent signings and a couple of prospects who resigned off of their ELCs round out the defense for the Rangers.  Nikolas Brouillard is a 28 year old smallish (5-11 168lb) defensemen who will likely be looked to replace some of the offense lost by the departure of Jones.  It seems unlikely the Rangers will have need to call on him during the year, but he will hopefully help the Pack’s power play and offense.

Ty Emberson had  a solid year last season, and while he remains an unlikely call up, could potentially be used as a call up should the Rangers be heavily impacted by injuries.  On a one year contract, he’ll be looking to build on last season’s moderate turnaround (from when he played in Arizona) and provide a legitimate option for the Rangers to call upon.

Mac Hollowel comes over from Toronto, where he made his debut last season with 2 assists in 6 games.  The 24 year old is another undersized blueliner at 5-9 170lbs, but does have some offense to his game.   The likelihood of the Rangers using him remains low, but he provides some more blueline offense for the Pack and perhaps some depth for the Rangers too.

Finally there’s Brandon Scanlin.  One thing about the Rangers defense this year, is that there’s a large number of hulking guys who are slow, and a bunch of smaller guys that are quicker but maybe aren’t strong enough to play in the NHL on a regular basis.  Scanlin fits into the former category, while certainly suffering from that lack of footspeed.  He’s in that same vein as guys like Harpur and Tinordi, though has yet to prove he can provide even that level of play at the NHL level.  This year will be an important one for him and the Rangers, who’ll be hoping that he continues to grow his game.