We've talked before about how the New York Rangers have never committed to a complete rebuild with their team, but instead have went down the path of what I like to call a "modified" rebuild by slowly infusing more youth into the lineup each year. In 2009-10 it was Michael Del Zotto and Artem Anisimov, then in 2010-11 it was MichaelSauer, Ryan McDonagh, Derek Stepan and Mats Zuccarello (sort of). Now head coach John Tortorella wishes to introduce a few more youngsters to the NHL at some point during this season.
"We have to continue to try to infuse more youth into our lineup," Tortorella said. "During the summer we went in a direction that got a couple of veteran guys, I think that’s where we are in our process after going with a really young team, still a young team. We added some people at the other end who can mentor. But you can’t forget about back-filling with youth and growing that way. There are spots open and there’s going to be competition along the way because we want to continue to get young guys in there. So it’s a good situation for them. They have to earn it. There’s a number of kids out there that are going to vie for a spot depending on how they play. I would be (disappointed if none made it) because it’s important for our organization to keep on trying to grow from within. But I’m not going to force feed it, either." - JohnTortorella to Andrew Gross at Ranger Rants
The biggest opportunity for any rookies to break into the NHL with the Rangers this year lies on defense. The first four spots are more or less set-in-stone, but the third pairing is wide open and up for grabs. Tim Erixon is obviously the top candidate to crack the lineup as a rookie this year, and he already is well on his way to capturing a spot on the third defensive pairing based on his performance in the Traverse City tournament and so far in training camp.
We haven't even begun preseason yet, but I am fairly confident that Erixon will be in the opening night lineup. He's confident, he has poise and he brings something to the team that they don't have with any of their other defensemen right now - a threatening shot from the point.
But Erixon only makes one rookie for the year, and by the sound of it, Tortorella has plans to call up more than that by the season's end. Where else in the lineup could we possibly see a rookie brought up permanently this season?
Continue reading after the jump....The only spot I could think of is on the third line wing. However, that would likely mean beating out Sean Avery for the spot in camp. Avery is determined to make the team this year and contribute more than he has in the past. That was evident by the immaculate physical shape he came to camp in.
A player like Christian Thomas, Ryan Bourque or Carl Hagelin could give Sean a run for his money, though. All three players have experience in either junior hockey or college hockey and were also standouts in last week's Traverse City prospects tournament. I've already stated that Thomas is my darkhorse to make the club out of camp this year, and if there is a guy that could potentially oust Avery, it's going to be him.
You can't count out Mats Zuccarello, either. On Sunday I wrote an article on my site about Zuccarello and the dogfight that he is currently in for a roster spot. Ironically enough, he spoke about that exact topic with the media later that same day...
Zuccarello probably has a better chance of making the team than any of the other youngsters simply because he proved he can play at the NHL level for half of a season last year. He and the coaching staff now know what is expected of one another, but it's crucial he shows improvements from last year in the scrimmages and during preseason.
"I’ve got to think in my head I’ve got a good chance, otherwise I’m wasting my time here," Zuccarello said. "I just have to stay positive and think I’m good enough for the team and we’ll see what happens.
The inter-squad scrimmages that started up on Sunday and will continue this week will be telling for the future of all of these kids. Why? Because Tortorella is using the scrimmages as a way to determine which prospects will get a look during preseason action on Wednesday and beyond then if they perform to his liking. So these scrimmages are not to be taken lightly - they will have a major impact when all is said and done.
With all of that said, Tortorella made it clear that he will not be forcing anyone. The only way a rookie will be infused into the lineup this season is if they show that they are absolutely 100-percent ready to make the jump.