Twenty Seven players. A maximum of twenty four spots – if Chris Drury starts the season on Injured Reserve. Probably more likely to be twenty three spots, whether or not Drury is healthy to start the season.
Remaining on the roster, the Rangers still have sixteen forwards, nine defensemen and two goaltenders. At least deciding the goaltending duo is going to be easy. As for the rest, I’m going to take a stab at breaking this down further.
Let’s start with the forward position. The following players I consider as certainties for the opening night roster: Artem Anisimov, Derek Boogaard, Ryan Callahan, Chris Drury, Brandon Dubinsky, Alexander Frolov and Marian Gaborik. That’s seven guys, and if you assume the team will carry at least one extra forward, then there are six spots remaining.
Of those remaining six spots, you’d have to think that Brandon Prust and Vinny Prospal are more than likely going to be there, while the remaining seven forwards will battle it out for four…maybe five spots.
A guy we all thought would be there opening night, at least earlier in the Summer, was Erik Christensen. Signed to a new two-year contract, he looked to have a spot locked up. Even in camp, it was thought that Tortorella saw him as a given, but things are not so clear now.
Despite a better performance in yesterday’s game in Detroit, there still remains plenty of questions about his viability as a top line center. The trialling of Derek Stepan as the first choice between Gaborik and Frolov, should tell you all you need to know about what the coaches are thinking.
It’s not a given though, and the fact that he’s got any time between the top offensive duo means that Stepan has far from locked the spot up.
While the Rangers’ 2008 second round pick has had a noticeable start to camp and the preseason, the difficulties of the first line to create offense against Detroit until the latter part of the game, coinciding with his Christensen’s substitution, may give Tortorella some pause.
There’s also some doubt whether having Christensen and Stepan on the roster at the same time makes much sense – some would say there are better third line options – so it may come down to whether Tortorella wants to be aggressive or conservative.
For Stepan to solidify the spot, he’ll need to show he can help the top line convert offense, and with just three games remaining, his time is getting short.
One other player that figures to be tried between the two top forwards is Todd White, but Tortorella has yet to try this option, which suggests he doesn’t expect it to pan out.
White in fact looks like to be the odd man out in the center position if Chris Drury is healthy to start the season. Instead it looks as if Tim Kennedy and Brian Boyle are battling it out for the fourth line spot, and the coach appears to be favoring Kennedy.
Boyle may still be able to secure a roster berth however, by showing his ability to play all three positions, and by being able to be used as a 13th forward to spell Boogaard when he’s not in the line-up. If Kennedy fails, then Boyle could also slot back into the fourth line center spot where he played last year.
On the wing, things are less congested, though any of the centers could potentially move across. With six of eight wing spots seemingly set, the battle largely remains for the third line. If Tom Renney was still the coach, you could probably place Sean Avery in one of those vacancies, but with Tortorella on the bench and Ruslan Fedotenko in camp, things are a little different.
The history between Avery and Tortorella is well documented, and the Grate One struggled last year to deliver the kinds of performances we’ve seen in the preseason from him.
Try-out Ruslan Fedotenko awoke offensively in his last outing, and made it through the first set of cuts. Two Stanley Cups, including one with Tortorella and the Lightning probably don’t hurt his cause either.
Meanwhile another player with an extended history with the Head Coach is also in the mix, with Prospal seemingly a strong candidate for either wing position.
So three wingers, and only two spots…
On the blueline the Rangers have nine defensemen following today’s cuts. Alexei Semenov had factored into the equation before today, but with his departure the field narrows considerably. Marc Staal and Dan Girardi figure as the certainties, while Michal Rozsival and Michael Del Zotto seem highly likely.
That leaves five guys for two starting spots, and probably one bench spot. The front runner for the bench you’d have to think is Steve Eminger. You don’t want to use that spot for a guy who’s still developing, and Eminger has proven to be a steady guy who can play regularly or in spots if needed.
Going into camp, Matt Gilroy probably would also have been a strong candidate, but his off-season workouts, coupled with some steadier play may have saved his spot.
That leaves three rookies for one final spot. The clear standout through the preseason to date has been Ryan McDonagh. The 21 year old defenseman looks easily the most poised, in fact one could easily confuse him with a veteran. McDonagh also brings a little bit of everything with his game, and you’d have to think he’ll be there.
Given that scenario, then Michael Sauer and Pavel Valentenko are likely heading to Hartford or elsewhere. Sauer also faces the prospect of having to clear waivers, and while it’s not certain that he’ll be taken, there’s a posibility that a team like the Islanders could pick him up.
So now we come to the moment of truth, how will the roster likely look on opening night. Barring the prospect of a trade – which the Rangers could now pull off given their extra salary space, I figure the following.
The Rangers sign Fedotenko to a one year deal. Derek Stepan gets a long look, but ultimately gets reassigned to Hartford and the Rangers elect to trial Erik Christensen in the center to start the year, roster down to 26.
Valentenko and Sauer are reassigned to Hartford, McDonagh and Gilroy get the last two starting spots and Eminger is kept on as a seventh D. Roster down to 24.