Matt Cullen

Training Camp – Center

Going into July 1st, there were nothing but questions as to who would play center for the Rangers. Negotiations with Michael Nylander had gone nowhere, Matt Cullen had proved to be only a minimal improvement over Steve Rucchin and the Rangers had finished the season using Sean Avery as a stop gap second line center.

Less than 24 hours later and the situation had changed dramatically. Free agents Scott Gomez and Chris Drury had signed their names to two of the biggest contracts in league history and Michael Nylander was no longer in the picture. Less than three weeks later and Matt Cullen was dispatched back to Carolina, creating a little more cap room.

A late Summer dalliance with Michael Peca never came to fruition and the Rangers now appear all set to go to into camp with their roster they have.

First up for Tom Renney will be the decision on who draws the assignment for Jaromir Jagr‘s line. On paper Scott Gomez would appear to be the odds on favorite, but chemistry is a funny thing and there’s no guarantee that either center will show the same kind of form as Nylander did over the past two seasons.

One could certainly argue that adding Gomez’s playmaking ability as a complement to Brendan Shanahan‘s scoring, while Drury’s finishing ability might actually match up well with Jagr’s ability to draw two players and make a pass.

Moving down to the third line, and the Blueshirts have perhaps their biggest question mark going into camp. They have a couple of veteran options in Martin Straka and Sean Avery. Both players have lined up in the pivot spot for New York, with varying degrees of success. Straka’s weakness in the faceoff circle would likely warrant assistance there from one of his wingers.

Alternatively the team could turn to a rookie to fill the spot. 19 year old 2006 second round draft pick, Artem Anisimov has impressed observers, but is largely unproven in North America. By contrast Brandon Dubinsky played a handful of games with the Rangers last year, and did not look out of place. Questions about his maturity level may hold him back, perhaps prompting the Rangers to go with the veteran route instead.

Blair Betts has the fourth line center position all but sewn up, and would be unlikely to be considered for the third line given his below average play making abilities.

Of the remaining centers in the system, Tom Pyatt could be a dark horse though is likely to begin in his pro career with Hartford. Joe Barnes (acquired in the Matt Cullen trade) and Bruce Graham will battle it out for a spot on the Wolf Pack roster, with the loser likely to head to Charlotte.

Projected Line-up:
Sean Avery – Starter
Blair Betts – Starter
Chris Drury – Starter
Scott Gomez – Starter

Artem Anisimov – AHL
Joe Barnes – AHL
Brandon Dubinsky – AHL
Tom Pyatt – AHL

Bruce Graham – ECHL

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