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Rangers Analysis: Training Camp and Preseason Battles

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Some pre-pre season notes.

Christian Petersen/Getty Images

The Rangers' six defensemen, two goaltenders, and nearly all of the spots on the top two forward lines for the beginning of the 2015-16 regular season are all but written in stone. However, there are plenty of questions about the makeup of the bottom six forward group and who will step up to replace Martin St. Louis on the second line to play opposite of Chris Kreider. In just over a week we'll start getting an idea of how some of the new faces on the club look when on the ice and we will all be in the throes of a roster-predicting frenzy.

The Rangers' first preseason game against the New Jersey Devils is now just 11 days away and training camp will be getting underway sometime next week. That's right my friends, hockey is finally just around the corner. Let's take a look at some of the key battles that will be taking place as youngsters, journeymen, and veterans all battle it out for roster spots on the New York Rangers.

note: there will be plenty of assumptions and projections made in this article, they aren't my opinion of what SHOULD happen but what I think will likely happen.

The Third and Fourth Line

With Carl Hagelin gone to Anaheim and J.T. Miller and Kevin Hayes projected by some as the leading candidates to replace Martin St. Louis on the second line there is quite a bit of mystery about which Rangers will be featured on the third line. Although Jesper Fast turned a few heads with his play on the third line in the 2015 Playoffs, he was put into that role after the Zuccarello injury and he is a better fit on the fourth line playing on Dom Moore's right wing.

Rick Nash

Derick Brassard

Mats Zuccarello

Chris Kreider

Derek Stepan

x

x

x

x

x

Dominic Moore

Jesper Fast

Before the Stoll signing most of us were hoping/expecting the Rangers to play a third line that featured the newly acquired young winger Emerson Etem, sophomore center Kevin Hayes, and veteran Viktor Stalberg. The size and speed of that line is very promising on paper, but that doesn't mean we are going to get to see it and now that Stoll is in the mix the chances of Hayes playing on the wing on the second line have increased substantially. Stoll fits in nicely as the Rangers' third line center and if he fits there than the left wing spot on the fourth line falls to either Tanner Glass or Viktor Stalberg.

The makeup of the third line will likely hinge on what the coaching staff does with Emerson Etem and J.T. Miller. If Miller isn't on the second line playing with Stepan and Kreider it would be criminal to have him on the fourth line. Head Coach Alain Vigneault has had an interesting history with J.T. Miller that has included vocal criticism of his play and moving Miller into every conceivable forward role in the lineup, but Vigneault has also acknowledged J.T.'s skill and potential. Both Etem and Miller will be RFAs in the 2016 offseason and both of them are looking to prove that they can put it all together this season and take a step towards joining the Rangers' core group. A third line with both young American forwards on it is a real possibility with Miller playing either wing or center and Etem playing the left or right wing. Both of these kids should be hungry and looking to make an impression on the coaching staff from day one of training camp.

Fighting for a Spot

Excluding Oscar Lindberg (who we will touch on later) there are three Rangers' forwards competing for two roster spots in the bottom six. Veterans Tanner Glass, Jarret Stoll, and Viktor Stalberg are all in direct competition with one another and one of them, most likely Tanner Glass, will be the club's de facto thirteenth forward at the onset of the season. There is a game of musical chairs to pay attention to during training camp and the preseason and no three Rangers players will be more interesting to watch than these three.

Tanner Glass, 31

Glass has another year on his contract after this season, but that might not save him from being the odd man out. Glass was used as a penalty killer last season which is of note because of the departure of penalty killing forward Carl Hagelin. However, both Stalberg and Stoll have penalty killing experience and we don't have to look at the metrics on shot suppression to know that both of them are leaps and bounds better than Glass is whether we are talking about shorthanded ice time or even strength ice time.

To his credit Glass looked like a better player in the postseason in 2015, but he remains the worst player on the roster by a significant margin. When should Glass be plugged into the lineup? There are some that would suggest the Rangers should dress Glass against teams like the Flyers or Ducks, but no matter who the opposition happens to be the Rangers are a worse team with him in the lineup. However, even with that being a more or less indisputable fact, he dressed for 66 regular season games and all 19 postseason games in 2014-15.

Viktor Stalberg, 29

Stalberg was bought out of his contract by the Nashville Predators and the Rangers picked him up as an UFA for a one-year, $1.1 million contract just a few days after he was cut loose. Last season was a big disappointment for Stalberg who spent some of it in the AHL (some of that time was for injury rehabilitation) and ultimately failed to live up to his four-year, $12 million contract. In 95 games with the Preds over the past two seasons Stalberg scored 10 goals and picked up 18 assists as well as 50 PIM.

Stalberg offers size, speed, and strength to the Rangers at a very reasonable cap hit. In some ways the Stalberg signing is not all that different from the Benoit Pouliot signing from a few seasons back- a short term deal on a player with upside that could desperately use a change of scenery and might just provide some invaluable depth scoring. If the Swedish forward is given a real chance with the Rangers he could provide not only some offense and solid penalty killing, but some much needed size to the Blueshirts' lineup as well. Stalberg might not be as versatile as Stoll is, but given his skill set he would be a valuable player to have in the bottom six.

Jarret Stoll, 33

Stoll has been one of the league's elite faceoff men for almost a decade which has a lot of fans, analysts, and writers placing him as the third line center. However, there is a lot more to him than a propensity to knock the puck backwards to his teammates with greater frequency than opposing centers. Stoll possesses a tremendous shot, noteworthy leadership qualities, and tons of experience. Stoll scored a goal and an assist with the Los Angeles Kings when they defeated the Rangers in the Stanley Cup Final in 2014 to earn his second Cup ring. Although his offensive game leaves a lot to be desired, he is a very solid role player with upside that will never be outworked for a puck on any given shift.

There have been vocal critics of Stoll's game over the years, but at a cap hit of just $800,000 and a hunger to put some off the ice issues behind him, Stoll could turn out to be a huge steal for the Rangers. Stoll, a right handed shot, is capable of playing both center and wing which helps his chances of making the lineup but further muddles our projected lineup heading into the season. Stoll being right handed is a bigger deal than one might think given the fact that he, Derek Stepan, and Jesper Fast are the only Rangers forwards who aren't southpaws. Could we see a third line of Etem-Stoll-Miller? Or is it more likely that we see Stoll on the wing in the bottom six? I expect him to be moved around quite a bit during preseason and given a lot of looks, including, perhaps, some power play time.

Raphael Diaz

This time last year the competition for the role of the seventh defenseman was a three horse race between Matt Hunwick, Mike Kostka, and Steven Kampfer. This time around it is a great deal less exciting. In a fair and just world Raphael Diaz would be getting a chance to compete for a spot on one of the Rangers' defensive pairings, but as of right now he is the de facto seventh defenseman unless the recently-invited-to-camp Brett Bellemore (formerly of the Carolina Hurricanes) has anything to say about it. After a season with the Calgary Flames Diaz has returned to the Rangers and despite playing a solid game and showing noteworthy skills moving the puck he will likely spend the majority of the regular season wearing a suit and tie during game time.

Thankfully for Diaz the chances of him taking to the ice for 30 or 40 games this upcoming season are pretty decent given the frequency with which defensemen become injured, but with the departure of John Moore the six blueliners ahead of Diaz on the depth chart are all well-established veterans that don't appear to be going anywhere and are nearly immune to being a healthy scratch just to "shake things up". The job of the seventh defenseman is really Raphael Diaz's to lose even though there are some, including myself, that think he might be a better option on the blue line than Kevin Klein.

Ryan McDonagh

Dan Giardi

Marc Staal

Keith Yandle

Kevin Klein

Dan Boyle

Raphael Diaz

Dark Horses

Oscar Lindberg is unfortunately the obvious pick for the dark horse to make the roster at this point. Lindberg's strong defensive game, faceoff ability, and standout season with the Wolf Pack in 2014-15 gives him a real chance at dressing as a Ranger in 2015-16. His chances certainly looked a lot better before the acquisition of Jarret Stoll. Lindberg will be 24 in late October and would have to go on the waiver wire should he be demoted from the big club to Hartford at any point this season. Which means that the Rangers are going to have to be very careful with how they handle the Swedish center who shows real promise of being a solid role player at the NHL level. Lindberg is a playmaking forward with great defensive instincts. As disappointing as it might be for some (including Oscar) the best thing to do with Lindberg might be to safely deposit him in Hartford after the preseason so he can continue working on his strength and offensive game.

Brian Gibbons, 27, isn't being talked about much and that is understandable considering that most Rangers fans remember him as a pesky AHL call up of the Pittsburgh Penguins from several seasons ago. Gibbons was signed to a one-year deal worth $750,000 and will be a mainstay in the AHL with the Wolf Pack. If the Rangers get bogged down with injuries or have a catastrophically disappointing training camp and preseason Gibbons could find himself moving up the depth chart and skating in a regular season game or two. Although seeing Gibbons take to the ice as a Ranger is very unlikely given the Blueshirts' forward depth. He should get a chance to take to the ice with the main roster in the preseason and he's a fun guy to watch... all 5'8" of him.

The Rangers' Preseason Schedule

9/21. Rangers vs. New Jersey Devils, 7:00 P.M.

9/22. Rangers at the Philadelphia Flyers, 7:00 P.M.

9/24. Rangers at the Boston Bruins, 7:00 P.M.

9/26. Rangers at the New Jersey Devils, 7:00 P.M.

9/28. Rangers vs. the Philadelphia Flyers, 7:00 P.M.

9/30. Rangers vs. the Boston Bruins, 7:00 P.M.

Thank you for reading. Let's go Rangers.