Rangers’ Forward Situation Coming Into Focus

The New York Rangers opened training camp with a slew of forwards battling for regular spots in the lineup. While their situation on defense remains uncertain, the forward lineup is starting to take shape.

Impressive Swedes

Two players who entered training camp with far from a guaranteed roster spot were Oscar Lindberg and Viktor Stalberg. Lindberg, 23, is a solid two-way center who has nothing left to prove in the AHL, where he tallied 28 goals and 28 assists in 75 games last season.

Stalberg, a Swede like Lindberg, is a little bit more experienced, having spent past seasons with Toronto, Chicago and, most recently, Nashville. Now 29-years old, the left winger flourished the most with Chicago, eclipsing the 20-goal and 40-point plateaus in the 2011-12 season. With Nashville, he struggled with consistency and could not work his way into the lineup regularly last season, appearing in just 25 games (injuries were also a contributing factor).

Both Swedes have had strong preseason showings for the Rangers. Lindberg, despite a couple of penalties in Saturday’s game against the Devils, has played a smart defensive game throughout the preseason while also chipping in offensively with two goals. He appears poised to finally get his chance at a regular spot on the Rangers’ roster.

Stalberg has also virtually locked his roster spot. His alliterative combination of size, speed, skill and snarl — and more importantly, the fact that he has consistently demonstrated those traits so far in the preseason — have made him look like an ideal third-line winger. His skill set also gives the Rangers another versatile forward who could be moved seamlessly up and down the lineup, much like J.T. Miller and Jesper Fast. He fits well with the Rangers and their style of play.

Glass Finally the Odd Man Out?

Assuming Lindberg and Stalberg make the roster, there are four other spots in the Rangers’ bottom-six forward group. Fast has one locked up, as does Dominic Moore. Head coach Alain Vigneault and the Rangers also like veteran forward Jarret Stoll, the free-agent signing from Los Angeles who is being given a second chance after an offseason drug arrest. Vigneault has said that Stoll is an “effective penalty killer and effective against a top line.” Stoll is also strong in the faceoff circle and adds to the club’s already strong leadership group. It appears that he will be a regular in the team’s lineup.

The other spot would go to whomever of Miller and Kevin Hayes is not in the top six (keeping in mind that players who make the lineup could be moving around throughout it). That leaves two spare forwards: Emerson Etem and Tanner Glass (Jayson Megna, who is likely to be sent down to Hartford, notwithstanding).

Etem has not had a particularly strong preseason for the Rangers, failing to stand out in any meaningful way, especially compared to Lindberg and Stalberg. But the 23-year-old former first-round draft pick will surely be given more opportunities to prove himself, especially when one considers that he was the main piece the Rangers got back from Anaheim when they had to trade away Carl Hagelin for salary cap reasons. Furthermore, Etem would have to pass through waivers before potentially going back to the minors. At this point, he looks to be the Rangers’ 13th forward.

Glass, meanwhile, is what he is: an enforcer whose actual hockey skills pale in comparison to the rest of the players on the Rangers, and for that matter, to most of the rest of the NHL. He is a serviceable penalty killer, but the Rangers have plenty of other forwards who can kill penalties as effectively if not more so, while also contributing in other ways.

Old-school hockey fans and even coaches believe that having an enforcer is necessary to keep opponents from taking runs at star players. It seems, though, that A) in the modern game that is predicated more so on speed and skill than ever before, fighting is declining and pure enforcers are being phased out, and B) if opposing players who intend to wreak havoc and go after star players are willing to drop the gloves, then enforcers are not going to scare them away.

Glass could potentially be a 14th forward, but Vigneault seems to have other ideas about the distribution of his roster.

Given their tight salary cap situation, it’s likely that the Rangers literally cannot afford to have 14 forwards on the roster. Glass, like Etem, would have to pass through waivers to go to the minors. To be frank though, another team claiming him would do the Rangers a favor, as they would still be hit with a $500K charge against the salary cap if he were buried in the minors. Still though, that dead weight might be preferable to having Glass on the main roster with a $1.45 million cap hit.

With the strong group of players the Rangers have in the mix, there might be no place for Glass. As the group of players upfront takes shape, it will be interesting to see what final roster decisions the Rangers make, and what they do with Glass, before the regular season starts.