Well, folks, we have done it. We have made it through the offseason and arrived at training camp’s start. The New York Rangers are back skating, with rookie games against the Philadelphia Flyers scheduled for Sept. 16 and 17, getting things kicked off on the 2022-23 preseason.
With new faces entering the fold and some young players trying to take a step, this preseason will indicate which players slot into which spots come opening night on October 11. Head coach Gerard Gallant and president and general manager Chris Drury will keep a close eye on their players this camp.
There is a lot to be decided between now and October. Ryan Carpenter will be in a bottle for a fourth-line spot with Julien Gauthier, Dryden Hunt, Ryan Reaves, and Jimmy Vesey, who signed a PTO. Vincent Trocheck will be skating alongside his new teammates for the first time. Kaapo Kakko, Alexis Lafreniere, and Filip Chytil look to build on solid postseasons. Zac Jones will look to take over the sixth defensive spot.
Storylines will be everywhere at this year’s camp, but these three things are what everyone should be keeping their eyes on as the Rangers ramp up for the 2022-23 NHL season.
Can Rangers Find Chemistry With New Line Combinations?
The group that brought the Rangers to the Eastern Conference Final a season ago is gone. Andrew Copp, Ryan Strome, and Frank Vatrano, among others, have departed the Big Apple. Trocheck, Carpenter, and Vitali Kravtsov are replacing them, while the Rangers who remain also look to jump into top-six roles.
This means new line combinations and chemistry will have to develop quickly during this training camp and the six preseason games on the schedule. Lafreniere and Kakko jump onto lines one and two, while Trocheck looks to replace Strome alongside Artemi Panarin. Kravtsov enters the fold after a tumultuous 2021-22 season, leaving many thinking he would never wear a Rangers sweater.
Building line chemistry is pivotal to a group’s success. And when change happens as drastically as it has between last season and this one, finding that chemistry will be atop the agenda for the Rangers this preseason. Lafreniere had spent time alongside Mika Zibanejad and Chris Kreider last season, so the trio should be able to find their footing before the start of the season.
Trocheck, Panarin, and Kakko have never played together, with Panarin and Kakko playing together fleetingly over the past two seasons. After returning from a season-ending knee injury, Sammy Blais will likely be playing with two youngsters in Kravtsov and Chytil, while Barclay Goodrow joins a revamped fourth line with the likes of Ryan Reaves, Carpenter, and Hunt.
There is a lot of change but also a lot of talent. Gallant will have to see which players mesh best, and that will be something to watch closely as the preseason progresses.
Othmann, Cuylle, Jones, Kravtsov & Youngsters Galore
The Rangers announced the roster for their rookie camp and some very prominent names on it. Zac Jones, who spent time between the Hartford Wolfpack in the AHL and the Rangers last season, highlights the defense corps. Up front, Brennan Othmann and Will Cuylle are joined by Adam Sykora and Bobby Trivigno, as they all fight for a chance to join the main roster at training camp.
The trio of Jones, Othmann, and Cuylle are who fans are likely to have their attention fixed on during rookie camp, as all three will almost certainly play in some preseason games with the regulars this year. (from ‘The questions facing Zac Jones and other prospects at Rangers rookie camp,’ New York Post, 09/13/22). Jones is the odds-on favorite to take the sixth defensive spot, playing with Braden Schneider.
Unlike the players heading to rookie camp, Kravtsov is signed to an NHL contract and will look to prove himself worthy of an opening night spot at 22 years old. We have seen the former first-round selection up with the big club, playing 20 games during the 2020-21 season. At the onset of the 2021-22 season, Kravtsov was sent down to the AHL rather than given a roster spot, and the Russian-born forward decided to return to the KHL and request a trade.
It seems as though the relationship has been repaired, and a fresh one-way contract should allow Kravtsov his first chance to open the season as a member of the Rangers. Expectations will be high for the forward as many want him to be the final piece of the Rangers’ top-nine this season. He will be tasked with helping fill some of the production void left by departed forwards.
If Othmann, Cuylle, Jones, and Kravtsov can all impress, the Rangers will be confident in their team and the Blueshirts’ future.
Rangers’ Third Pairing on Defense
The Rangers seemingly have five defensive spots secured. Adam Fox, Ryan Lindgren, K’Andre Miller, Braden Schneider, and newly appointed captain, Jacob Trouba, are all guaranteed to be in the opening night lineup. The final spot is still up in the air and is a battle between Jones, Jarred Tinordi, and Libor Hajek.
Nils Lundqvist, a Rangers first-round selection back in 2018, requested a trade, as the right side of the Rangers’ defense is already pretty congested. Due to his request, it is unlikely he is a part of the battle for the spot alongside Schneider, but stranger things have happened.
Jones seems to be the front-runner and is said to have gained 10 pounds this summer ahead of rookie camp, per Mollie Walker of the New York Post. Jones would complement the more tenacious Schneider well as a mobile defenseman with good puck skills.
Both Schneider and Jones have quick feet, and although there will be lapses due to their inexperience, they are the best third pairing the Rangers have had in quite some time. But as has become a Blueshirts’ tradition, evaluating and making the proper choices with defensemen could lead to unforeseen decisions, pitting the likes of Hajek or Tinordi on the third pairing.
It pays to watch the rotation of defensemen from game to game this preseason, as Gallant will give everyone a fair shot. So if you are one for positional battles, key in on that.
There are a lot of question marks with this year’s group. The 2022-23 preseason and training camp will open some eyes and spark debate. So as we all focus on how things unfold, let’s sit back and relax and enjoy the fact that Rangers hockey is back.