This recap is going to be a little different from the stock-tracker we’ve done in the past.
Instead, I’m going to put players in categories based on where I think they stand in Alain Vigneault’s mind. I will mark out my personal feelings and little summaries where applicable.
Definitely Going To Make The Team
Rick Nash, Mats Zuccarello, Derek Stepan, Mika Zibanejad, Kevin Hayes, J.T. Miller, Jesper Fast, Oscar Lindberg (injured) and Chris Kreider — These are all the forwards that are 100% locks to make the team. There’s no surprises here, and I don’t think there’s much more to say.
Dan Girardi, Marc Staal, Ryan McDonagh, Kevin Klein -- These are the defenseman that are 100% making the team. I’ll go into detail on who is missing later.
Henrik Lundqvist, Antti Raanta -- Did I even need to write anything here? I’m moving on.
On The Bubble (Should Make The Team)
Pavel Buchnevich -- Easily his best game in the preseason, and that’s honestly saying something. He scored his first goal, and you could tell how much it meant for him to score it. I mean, look at the way Kreider hugged him after the goal.
It’s clear the Kreider - Zibanejad - Buchnevich line has been the Rangers best line this preseason. Buchnevich has been a revelation in terms of puck movement and offensive creativity. He hasn’t just made the team, but he’s also secured a top-nine role easily. Plus, he’s been so good both defensively and away from the puck. Young rookies aren’t usually this sound on the back end:
So long as Vigneault agrees with all of this (why do you think he’s in this category?), but I think he does.
Jimmy Vesey -- Not as dominant as he was in Traverse City (where he should have been) but still showed off his game top to bottom. He added some offense, showed his vision and is a much smarter hockey player than advertised.
I’m not sure where Vesey is going to end up -- he’s played everywhere from the top line to the third line — but like Buchnevich, I don’t think there’s any way he’s not in the top nine.
On The Bubble (It’s A Coin Flip)
Adam Clendening — Look I don’t think he should be here. Honestly Clendening has outplayed half this defense in terms of defense only, and he’s easily been the most effective puck mover out there. The power play looks much better with him. The Rangers’ exits from their own zone look much better with him. The defense doesn’t look any worse for wear with him.
Clendening will be taken if exposed to waivers after this preseason, you’d assume, so that’s probably part of the decision making here. That doesn’t guarantee a roster spot, though, especially if Vigneault elects to keep eight defenseman.
I’d have Clendening in the opening night roster. That’s how much better he’s been than everyone else on the ice. I’m not sold Vigneault agrees, though.
Brandon Pirri — This isn’t so much a matter of him making the team or not (he will) but if he’s going to be the 13th forward or in the lineup. Maybe Vigneault has adjusted his “Pirri can only be in the top-nine or a 13th forward” stance (like I have) or maybe he’s going to get Pirri into the top-nine by getting creative with the fourth line in other ways.
Either way, Pirri has earned his spot on this roster. He had four goals and two assists this preseason, and was one of the Rangers best players overall — not even just compared to the bubble guys.
So he’s going to make the final cuts, that much we know. Whether or not he makes the actual roster? Well, that’s another thing.
Brady Skjei — I’m not sure how this is going to go. Skjei doesn’t need to be exposed to waivers, but he did look a little better as the preseason went on and he’s going to be a valuable part of the team moving forward. What Vigneault does with the struggling rookie is up in the air. Honestly I have no idea. I think Skjei should be on the team, but not over Clendening.
If I were the coach you already know who I would move out to make room for both but I’m not.
Dylan McIlrath -- Was better than Skjei. Also got better as time went on. Not totally sure what Vigneaut’s viewpoint on him is to be honest so I’m not sure what I can say here.
Nick Holden — Sort of the same thing. I think he’s been alright but I’m not sure where he stands.
Michael Grabner and Nathan Gerbe — I think one of the two are going to make the team for sure. There’s pros and cons to each but I really do think Grabner has the edge here.
In terms of play on the ice, both bring similar defensive skills but Grabner adds far more offense and a little more speed. Gerbe — for as good as he’s been — just hasn’t outplayed Grabner enough to earn the spot in my eyes.
Also, Grabner is on a two-year deal to Gerbe’s one-year deal. That’s important because Grabner can be exposed in the expansion draft next summer, meaning the Rangers can expose him without concern they’re losing a core member. In the end I think that plays just as big of a role in the decision making — because the two have been close.
Josh Jooris -- I thought he played pretty well Thursday night, although I’m not sure he’s had enough time to prove he belongs on the team.
If Vigneault doesn’t want to move forward with Miller on the fourth line, then Jooris might make the team to fill that role. If the Rangers keep 14 forwards he might fit here, although that depends on ... well ... let’s just go into it.
On The Bubble (Shouldn’t Make The Team)
Tanner Glass — I needed to create a separate category just for him. With all the talent the Rangers have, and all the qualified players that are NOT going to make this team (rightfully so) Glass is still somehow in the discussion. If you want my fire rant about this, listen to the last 25 minutes or so of Ep. 18.
Definitely Won’t Make The Team
Cristoval Nieves -- As far as first impressions go he had a great Traverse City and a fantastic showing in his only preseason game (he was hurt for most of training camp). I don’t see Nieves even being a callup this year, but that speaks far more to the wealth of talent the Rangers have in their lineup. He’s going to be an NHLer if he can keep this up.
Magnus Hellberg — Not sure I need to elaborate here.
Gabriel Fontaine -- He’s here because he’s injured. He’ll be going down soon enough.