With the Traverse City Prospects Tournament completed, attention now turns to Rangers training camp, set to get under way tomorrow with players reporting for physicals. First on-ice sessions will begin Saturday, with the preseason schedule kicking off next Wednesday against the Devils.
Going into camp, there appears to be few questions. The Rangers have a well defined core now, with goaltending, top four defense and the majority of the forwards known, but there are still some decisions to be made.
Amongst the questions for the Rangers, who will fill out the final two spots on defense, who will get to play alongside Brad Richards and Marian Gaborik, and will Sean Avery be able to force his way into the line-up.
With respect to the defense, there are a number of candidates for the final two spots. Steve Eminger looks all but certain to take one of those spots, or at the very least serve as a seventh d-man. That leaves a number of guys competing for one, or maybe two spots.
Acquired in a June 1st trade with Calgary, Tim Erixon looks to have a good chance of taking one of those positions. All through the Traverse City Tournament, he was highlighted by the Rangers brass as being one of the players who they think is likely to push for a spot. Erixon has the advantage of having already played in a senior league – Swedish Elite League – and has the poise and confidence that several of his comrades may not have.
Free agent signing Brendan Bell showed plenty of offensive potential from the blueline in his junior career with the Ottawa 67s of the OHL, including 53 points in 55 games in his final season, to go with 25 points in 23 post season games. He hasn’t played in the NHL since 2009 – with Ottawa, where he set a career high of 53 appearances – and has spent the last three years in the AHL, KHL and Swiss Nationaliga respectively. Bell could potentially be a 7th d-man, or push Eminger if he has a great camp.
Another contender is likely to be Michael Del Zotto. Del Zotto broke into the NHL two years ago with a quick start, but saw his offense drop off as his rookie season progressed, and worse yet his defense never really improved. He’ll have to prove he’s reliable in his own end if he wants a spot in the top six.
Rookie d-man Pavel Valentenko was a late cut last season, and is also a potential candiate to push for inclusion in the squad, and another strong camp might give the Rangers coaching staff something to think about. A longer shot would be fellow rookie Tomas Kundratek, who played steadily for the Whale last season.
If Mike Sauer‘s knee injury is worse than expected, one of these players could find themselves at least an early opportunity.
Up front the biggest question – aside from whether Gaborik and Richards will have chemistry – is who will get to play with them. Wojtek Wolski seems a logical choice in terms of guy with sufficient skill, but in need of better linemates, while Brandon Dubinsky skated with the duo in the informal practices, and could provide some size and power on the line – if they decide to break up the blueline.
Sean Avery and Ruslan Fedotenko could also be considered, though in the case of the former he underperformed once again last season, and is not considered one of the coach’s favorites. Fedotenko by contrast is definitely a Tortorella guy, but is more steady than spectacular.
The one remaining question is probably who will miss out. Sean Avery, Mats Zuccarello and Erik Christensen all look like they’ll be fighting to remain in the line-up. Two of the three could find themselves on the bench, heading to Connecticut or dispatched from the organization. Given Sather’s history of holding onto assets for at least a month, it seems most likely that they’ll simply sit to begin with.
As we wait for the official camp roster, it appears that Wade Redden will not be on the roster, and that we won’t see any veterans invited.