Assuming Marc Staal, Dan Girardi, Michael Del Zotto, and Michal Rozsival all have spots on the team, there are three slots currently open on the Rangers' blue-line if head coach John Tortorella chooses to carry along a seventh defenseman. Three slots open, but five players still remaining in camp after Monday's cuts that are contending for them. That puts the Blueshirts in a bit of a tough situation, and means Torts has some decisions to make over the next week. But who will fill those slots? What will the Rangers defensive corps comprise of this season? Let's take a look.
The five players that are fighting for the three spots are Matt Gilroy, Ryan McDonagh, Steve Eminger, Pavel Valentenko and Mike Sauer. Obviously the average age among these individuals is relatively young, with the oldest player being Eminger at age 26. That alone makes the competition even more closer than it already is, and below I shared my thoughts on each one of these guys and how I think they would contribute to the team if they made it.
I will start with Matt Gilroy because I am almost completely positive that he has won over the coaching staff throughout training camp and the preseason. He is playing with the battle level that was absent from his game last season, which ultimately led to him spending a portion of the year in the AHL. Coach Tortorella has praised the former Hobey Baker Award Winner over and over again over the course of the past month and to me that is a hint that Matt will be in the opening night roster in Buffalo.
Gilroy, for just a sophomore, shows a lot of patience with the puck and while playing defense in general as well. And once he has the puck, the kid can do wonders with it such as leading the rush and what not. All he needs is confidence right now, and I think that is slowly but surely building back up in him. He has talent, and I am not just saying that as a general statement. He has all-star caliber talent, we just have not seen it enough yet.
Ryan McDonagh has gotten stronger as training camp has progressed. His 6-1, 212 pound frame enables him to be a physical force out there, which is something the Rangers have not had in quite some time. They need somebody to clear the crease. They need somebody to intimidate the oppositio
n's forwards so they fear to even go near the net. Ryan has that ability in addition to his fantastic all-around play and speed. He is the full package, basically, although he is not known for his offense. But again, if he can play physical, that will end up being more important than offense considering the circumstances in which this team is in defensively.
McDonagh needs to come out and really show off in the next preseason game or two. He needs to do something that will drop Tortorella's jaw to the ground and give him a reason why he would be so valuable to the club. That should be his objective because although he has played well, he is not locked in for a spot just yet.
McDonagh's main competition, surprisingly, will be in the form of Pavel Valentenko. Valentenko, age 22, has clearly impressed the coaching staff being that he survived the first two cuts. I think what may be attractive to them is his explosive shot from the point. We saw it on Sunday night in Detroit when he blasted one off the post. In addition to that, much like McDonagh, he is a physical defenseman. So physical that, in a way, he was the Sean Avery of the AHL in that he knew how to get under the skin of the opponent.
And not only will he run his mouth, he is more than willing to back it up. That also may be grabbing the attention of the coaches.
Steve Eminger, acquired via trade from the Anaheim Ducks back in July, is the prime candidate for the seventh defenseman position at the moment. I think Tortorella likes the fact that he is a veteran presence on the blue-line and will guide the numerous youngsters throughout the year. Eminger cannot add a whole lot besides physicality to the team in my opinion. But as a seventh, he is just what the doctor ordered.
Mike Sauer does not have a place on this team. Maybe two years ago, but I do not really understand why he is still around. Alexei Semenov, who was cut yesterday, was performing better than Sauer in the preseason. He's shown Torts something, but he will not be kept around much longer if you ask me.
It all comes down to these next two preseason contests for all of these players. They may all be wearing the same jersey, but in reality they are enemies right now. They are fighting for a job on an NHL team. You better believe they will try to convert on every opportunity they have to one-up each other.