Tonight, the preseason begins for the New York Rangers as they face off against their first opponent since falling to Buffalo in the postseason. The Rangers return bigger, better and stronger than last year, having added top centers Chris Drury and Scott Gomez as well as introducing a young group of Rangers hopefuls, led by defenseman Marc Staal. The upcoming season looks promising but now is time to focus on the present and answer a few questions about what the lineup will look like come opening night. I will count off five important questions and express my opinion on how they will be answered.
#5 Who will back-up Henrik Lundqvist?
A. Stephen Valiquette: Having played as a backup goalie for most of last season, Valiquette proved to be a decent goalie that can win a few games. Because Lundqvist will play so many games and thanks to an excellent team in front of him, Valiquette will not likely hurt or help the team very much and with his low salary, he is the safe choice.
B. Al Montoya: The Rangers top goalie prospect, Montoya is a long shot for this role because he needs consistent playing time that he can get in the minors. He is not likely to become a starter in the Rangers organization unless Lundqvist has contract issues or gets injured. He is great trade bait and he can improve on his consistency in the minors while being an insurance plan if Lundqvist goes wrong.
C. Veteran Signing: there have been rumors floating around that the Rangers are looking to sign a free-agent veteran back up. I doubt this because Valiquette has proven to be okay and the Rangers have no need to add to their already high salary.
My Choice: A. Stephen Valiquette
#4 Where will Marcel Hossa play?
A. Line #1: Marcel has played great hockey with Jagr and Nylander last season and really seems to thrive on the top line. He is a physical, puck-possession type player and his style fits well with Jagr. Putting him on the top line adds depth to lines 2-4 and allows Straka or Avery to fill the third line center spot that would otherwise be filled by a rookie.
B. Line #4: If Anisimov or Dubinsky is ready, Marcel will be bumped to the fourth line. He does struggle on the fourth line and that is often attributed to his lack of effort when not on the top line. However, he will add much need scoring ability to an otherwise offensively impotent fourth line and would open up a spot for Prucha to jump to the second line for some much needed ice-time.
C. Minors: Hossa does not have complete job security as Dawes, Dubinsky, Anisimov and Jessiman are all pushing hard to make the team. If two or more of these players impress in the preseason, Marcel may find himself in Hartford.
My Choice: B. Line 4
#3 Will Marc Staal make the team?
A. Yes: Staal has everything going for him. Coming off an excellent OHL season in which he was named the league’s most outstanding defenseman, in addition to leading his Sudbury Wolves to the finals and made highlight reels with his huge open ice hit and end-to-end goal. He has outgrown the minors and needs to get some NHL games under his belt to continue his development. Even if he is not the best man for the position, Marc should get in so he can improve and be as ready as possible come playoff time.
B. No: The main problem for Staal is the stiff competition that he faces. Young Thomas Pock and veteran Jason Strudwick have NHL experience and would appear to be more ready to start games. Staal can be left in the minors until he is needed on the chance of injuries or playoffs and by then, he will be even more prepared to play on an NHL level.
My Choice: A. Yes
#2 Who will center the “Jagr Line”?
A. Scott Gomez: Gomez plays a similar “pass first” style to Jagr’s former pivot, Michael Nylander, who he had much success with. Gomez brings speed and playmaking ability that will complement Jagr’s puck-possession style well. Don’t be fooled by last year’s statistics because he will now be on a more offensive oriented team with more skilled wingers. As long as Jagr can keep up with the speed of Gomez, the former devil should grab the top-line spot.
B. Chris Drury: Don’t count out the underdog in this fight, as Drury is the better all-around player has a knack for scoring goals. His scoring ability will draw defenders away from Jagr and create a double threat offensively. He tends to shoot as often as he passes and that will draw the Rangers away from the cancerous and predictable “feed Jagr” mentality and bring a new dimension to the top line.
My Choice: A. Scott Gomez
#1 Who will center the third line?
A. Artem Anisimov: The Russian played good hockey in the Summit Games and seems to be the most ready of the rookie forwards at camp. He can develop into a great scoring threat and should play well with players like Prucha, Avery and Callahan.
B. Sean Avery: Sean played well at center last season and will likely take that role again if the prospects are not ready. His grit and scoring ability is ideal for a third line center.
C. Brandon Dubinsky: Having played a couple of games last season, Dubinsky showed good hustle and an ability to produce offensively. All will depend on if he performs well in the preseason.
D. Martin Straka: The versatile Straka can play just about anywhere: wing or center, top line or third line. His speed and experience makes him able to perform with any line mates and Prucha and Callahan can benefit from having his experience on their line.
My Choice: A. Artem Anisimov
Preseason Player Bank
Artem Anisimov: Young Russian prospect played well in camp, looks to steal roster spot.
Sean Avery: Last year’s spark returns with speed, agitation and goal scoring ability.
Blair Betts: A career fourth line center will be pressured by youngsters to improve.
Ryan Callahan: Showed skill last season and impressed in camp should lock up a spot.
Nigel Dawes: Showed good offensive talent last year and will try to get on the top line.
Chris Drury: Great all around player and leader with uncanny ability in the clutch.
Brandon Dubinsky: High hopes for young forward after short stint last season.
Scott Gomez: Speedster looks to feed top tier wingers for an improved statistical year.
Ryan Hollweg: Untalented offensively, fan favorite must improve to remain dressed.
Marcel Hossa: Good possession player has questionable effort and consistency.
Jaromir Jagr: Best player with new center looks to lead Rangers to first Cup since 1994.
Hugh Jessiman: High draft pick with untapped potential had an impressive training camp.
Colton Orr: Specialized fighter adds only a knockout punch against rival teams, Fedoruk.
Petr Prucha: Sophomore slump shouldn’t slow talented Czech with improved line mates.
Brendan Shanahan: Barring injury, veteran leader can have another 35-goal season.
Martin Straka: Winger or center can play with any line mates thanks to speed and skill.
Hutchinson: Off-season acquisition will be saved for use in the event of injury.
Daniel Girardi: Great second half last year should boost young defenseman into lineup.
Marek Malik: Hated, mistake prone player will remain, thanks to a sky-high plus minus.
Paul Mara: PP QB ability keeps this otherwise average defenseman high in minutes.
Thomas Pock: Young D-man with a great shot should challenge Staal, Strudwick for spot.
Michal Rozsival: Best Rangers defenseman should continue to excel in his prime years.
Marc Staal: Brother of the most talented hockey foursome was OHL’s best defenseman.
Jason Strudwick: Veteran with solid skills can get back into the roster if Staal isn’t ready.
Fedor Tyutin: In his third season, solid and skilled player should continue to improve.
Henrik Lundqvist: Two-time Vezina finalist with quick reflexes and great positioning.
Al Montoya: Best goalie prospect should get consistent work in minors or be dealt.
Stephen Valiquette: Decent backup with no spot competition will not play many games.
Fri 9/21/2007 New Jersey (PS) 7:00P
Sat 9/22/2007 Philadephia (PS) 7:00P
Mon 9/24/2007 N.Y. Islanders (PS) 7:00P
Tue 9/25/2007 Detroit (PS) 7:30P
Fri 9/28/2007 N.Y. Islanders (PS) 7:00P
Sat 9/29/2007 Philadelphia (PS) 7:00P
Thank you for reading and stay tuned for the next Rangers recap. If you have any questions, comments or corrections, please leave a comment or send me a PM.
For more Rangers material, check out blogs by Rangers Blogger Patrick Hoffman and New York Metro Blogger Jan Levine.