by Mark Owens
With three preseason games remaining, Tom Renney and staff face some difficult roster decisions. There are still 33 players in camp vying for 23 roster spots.
Which 11 players will be cut? To answer this question, start by looking at which players are most likely to make the team.
The following veterans are virtually guaranteed a roster spot:
1. Jaromir Jagr
2. Scott Gomez
3. Sean Avery
4. Chris Drury
5. Brendan Shanahan
6. Martin Straka
7. Ryan Hollweg
8. Blair Betts
9. Colton Orr
10. Marek Malik
11. Michal Rozsival
12. Fedor Tyutin
13. Paul Mara
14. Henrik Lundqvist
The following rookies appear to be locks:
15. Ryan Callahan
16. Brandon Dubinsky
17. Daniel Girardi
18. Stephen Valiquette
Based on these assumptions, that leaves 16 players competing for the final four roster spots. The next cuts will probably include:
Artem Anisimov ’ needs to bulk up and play a full season at AHL level; might the Rangers consider moving him to left wing in the future, similar to how the Penguins use Evgeni Malkin?
Lauri Korpikoski ’ has displayed good chemistry with Dubinsky in the past and may eventually get that chance.
Dane Byers ’ nice LeClair-like goal Friday night; could eventually be a more skilled option for Hollweg’s fourth-line role as well as power play duty.
Francis Lessard ‘ will probably come to New York if Orr gets hurt or suspended
Miika Wiikman ’ Is he better than Valiquette?
Al Montoya ’ needs to play full time but would be recalled instantly if the unthinkable happens and Henrik gets hurt.
That leaves nine players competing for five roster spots. Here’s a list of those nine players and where I think they will wind up, at least to start the season.
Off to Hartford
Thomas Pock ’ seems to be the odd man out from last year’s team, but could still sneak onto the roster if Renney demotes Marc Staal and Michael Sauer.
Andrew Hutchinson ’ Rangers may want to evaluate his performance at Hartford before giving him a roster spot; probably not a strong-enough defender to be paired with Mara. However, the Rangers must have plans for him since he was the main player acquired for Matt Cullen.
Nigel Dawes ’ did not distinguish himself in Saturday’s shutout loss to the Flyers, but no one else did either; will have to shine this week to beat out Marcel Hossa or Petr Prucha for roster spot.
Marc Staal ’ still has a chance to make a good impression and stick with the Rangers; coaches may decide to give him major playing time at AHL level before promoting him.
Staying with the Big Club
Michael Sauer ‘ probably neck and neck with Staal right now, but may be playing his way onto the team based on his steady play, size and right-handed shot; may be a good partner with Mara as third defense pair.
Petr Prucha ’ Despite averaging 26 goals in his first two NHL seasons, Prucha is fighting to find a regular spot on the first, second or third line. He may wind up with Dubinsky and Callahan on third line, with Straka slotting to first line.
Marcel Hossa ’ competing with Dawes and Prucha for two roster spots; working to his advantage is the chemistry he displayed with Jagr (or was it Nylander?) last season before getting hurt. He may have to outplay Prucha in the preseason not to start the season as a healthy scratch.
Jason Strudwick ’ perfect extra defenseman, evolving into a player-coach type role.
Mark Smith ‘ has a slight chance to unseat Renney-favorite Betts, he has played more NHL games than Betts and compiled similar offensive statistics (i.e., very little); has a bit more snarl to his game and better play-making ability, though. More suited for a substitute role than Dawes. May be Hartford-bound if Renney decides to go with a 22-man roster.
These are tough choices for Renney, but he is happy to be in this position as it shows the team’s tremendous depth. Like last year, the roster for game one might look a little different later in the season. This time, it is more likely that Sather will improve the roster from within instead of swinging a trade, especially due to salary-cap restrictions.