When the Rangers announced their roster for tonight's preseason opener at the Garden against the Devils yesterday it was surprising to see that Jarret Stoll's name wasn't on the list. During training camp head coach Alain Vigneault said that he would play a group of 4-6 players in both of the Rangers' back-to-back games that kick off the 2015 preseason. The reason behind this was to give a key group of players a more thorough evaluation. We also know that the first cuts from training camp will be coming sometime after tomorrow night's game in Philly.
There were many, including myself, who assumed that the coaching staff wanted to get Jarret Stoll in the mix early on in preseason to get a better idea of what the veteran might offer the club and where he could fit in the lineup. Instead the spotlight will be on other veterans like Viktor Stalberg and Tanner Glass who are also battling for spots and ice time on the Rangers' roster. Whether or not Stoll's absence tonight means anything more than simply his shoulder not being tapped remains to be seen, but we should expect to see the former Los Angeles King in the lineup tomorrow against the Flyers.
It appears that the group of players that Vigneault and the coaching staff wanted to get an early look at includes forwards like Oscar Lindberg, Marek Hrivik, Ryan Bourque, Jayson Megna, and Luke Adam, all of whom have established themselves as AHL-caliber players but are looking for a chance to be something more in the Rangers' organization. It is also worth pointing that Raphael Diaz, Brady Skjei, Dylan McIlrath, and Chris Summers will all be dressing tonight for the Rangers. With the exception of elite prospect Skjei, these blueliners will be battling to claim the role of the team's seventh defensemen and start putting the order of the Rangers' blue line depth chart into greater focus. As of right now it is Diaz's job to lose. If Dylan McIlrath fails to show more than just toughness, a mean streak, and hesitancy with the puck on his stick in his own zone tonight this very well might be one of the last games we see him in a Rangers' jersey.
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A year ago this is what McIlrath showed the coaching staff in the preseason. It's time for him to show them that he can be trusted in his own zone and is more than just a big, tough kid.
“We all know the toughness part. We need to see if he can play at this level. Can he play against the third or fourth line of the other team and be a dependable, safe defenseman…Make that first initial pass and not always off the glass."
It will be exciting for us to get a better look at Brady Skjei who will be dressing as a Ranger for the first time tonight. With only two defensemen from last year's roster dressing tonight (Yandle and Boyle) we might get the chance to see Skjei eat up some significant minutes. We've heard all kinds of praise about Skjei's game and given the comparisons drawn to captain Ryan McDonagh we're all expecting him to have a very successful rookie year in the AHL with the Wolf Pack. Hopefully he gets off on the right foot tonight in his debut in front of the Garden Faithful.
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Even with two Stanley Cup rings and an $800,000 one-year contract there is no guarantee that Jarret Stoll will make the regular season roster. Oscar Lindberg is one of the players in direct competition with Stoll for a spot on the team and, unlike Stoll, he will be taking the ice tonight at the Garden. It will be interesting to see how Lindberg is deployed and what situations he is used in. Lindberg is a strong faceoff man, a gifted passer, and a complete player that has the makings of a very solid third line center. The Devils sat a lot of their more noteworthy players in their 2-0 loss against the Bruins last night, so we might get a chance to see how Lindberg handles players like Mike Cammalleri and Travis Zajac while starting buried in his own zone (Adam Henrique will not play tonight for the Devils).
Tanner Glass will also be dressing tonight for the Blueshirts. The presence of Stoll and Stalberg in the Rangers' training camp are direct threats to Glass' spot on the roster, which he already had a rather tenuous grip on thanks to his infamously poor play last season. I'm not sure what Tanner Glass has to show Vigneault and the coaching staff to prove that he does or doesn't belong on the Rangers' fourth line or as the team's thirteenth forward, but if Glass wants to keep his job he's going to need to show a lot more than he did during the 2014-15 campaign.
Viktor Stalberg will be wearing #25 in his Rangers' preseason debut at the Garden. The Rangers' only two big offensive weapons in the lineup are Chris Kreider and Derek Stepan and Stalberg might just get some ice time skating alongside the two young American forwards. If not, Stalberg should still get a lot of ice time tonight, especially in the offensive zone and on the power play where his big frame and speed make him a depth player with tremendous upside. Stalberg is looking to prove that he belongs in the NHL after being bought out by the Nashville Predators this offseason, hopefully tonight marks the beginning of a successful change of scenery for the Swedish forward.
When we learn about the lineup for tomorrow's game against Philly we should all keep a keen eye on which players from tonight's game will be back on the ice 24 hours later. In that group of 4-6 players we will almost certainly find some of the first cuts of the Rangers' training camp. Given the lineups and the number of players desperate to make an impression I wouldn't be surprised if we saw more than our fair share of penalty minutes and big hits. It should prove be a big test for players like Dylan McIlrath and Tanner Glass who need to make a statement about why they belong with the New York Rangers.
Schneider and Dannis will split time in net for the Devils tonight and Antti Raanta and Magnus Hellberg will be doing the same for the Blueshirts.
Thanks for reading. Let's go Rangers.