On Thursday, as Rangers players reported for the start of training camp, and off-ice testing, Alain Vigneault addressed the media for the first time since last season. Entering his second year behind the bench, Vigneault didn't offer any groundbreaking news, while he did say his team is not tired despite the shorter offseason, and is "chomping at the bit," and ready to get back into the swing of things. But there were some newsworthy items from Thursday's media availability, so let's run through them.
'C' You Later
There were some whispers that Vigneault might announce who will take over as the team's captains this season on the heels of the team taking the ice for camp. That speculation was put to bed when Vigneault revealed he'll make that decision just before the team opens the regular season. There's no reason at this point to think Ryan McDonagh won't be named captain, while camp will give him and every Ranger for that matter time to acclimate to a new room. There's probably also something to be said about showing leadership qualities during camp and preseason that lend one's self to being named captain, but we'll save the fuzzy, obscure analogies for another time.
Versatility, and the third line
Two young players who will be fighting to earn a roster spot come opening night are J.T. Miller and Kevin Hayes. There's been no indication this is an either-or situation when it comes to these two players, but Vigneault did tell the media he likes "versatility," and that Hayes and Miller will both get looks at center at the start of camp.
Both players are actually natural centers, while Hayes moved over to the wing at Boston College, and has spent most of his time there recently. He did play center during the Traverse City Tournament, where many observers felt he was dominant, and made the transition back into the middle rather easily.
It's probably important to note here that Vigneault said both players will start camp at center. Nothing is set in stone, and certainly, if both players come out the gates playing well, it's not hard to envision Vigneault giving one or both of them a look on the wing to keep them in the mix. Miller obviously has much more professional experience under his belt, and with the way the team has been posturing him all summer, playing up this "what it take to be a professional" angle, it seems like he's very much in the mix for a job. For the money Hayes is set to make, and the scenario involving his signing, he has to be right up there with anyone vying for one of those final lines on the depth chart.
In reality, there are likely four open starting jobs to be won, with five total forward spots up for grabs. Vigneault indicated during his availability the team will likely carry 13 forwards, seven defenseman, and two goalies. Vigneault added he would like to carry eight defenseman, but doesn't envision that happening under the cap.
What we do know is that these forwards are guaranteed spots: Rick Nash, Derek Stepan, Chris Kreider, Martin St. Louis, Mats Zuccarello, Derick Brassard, Carl Hagelin, and Dominic Moore. That again brings us back to that four number, and five if you include the extra. In terms of specifically what's on the line, six of those eight listed will make up the Rangers top two lines. Outside of that, Hagelin will likely occupy a spot on a wing on the third line, while Moore, who is a natural center, played some wing on a line with Brian Boyle last year, but is best off centering the fourth line.
Long story short, there's a lot to be learned in the coming weeks, and opportunities to be earned in camp and preseason.