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Training Camp: The Battle to be Backup

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It’s Georgiev’s job to lose, but he does have some competition

Philadelphia Flyers v New York Rangers Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

The 2018 preseason is already underway and thus far the New York Rangers’ goaltending has been underwhelming. But, there’s really no cause for concern yet. After all, we’ve only seen a few preseason games and we all know who the starting goaltender is going to be.

But, for the first time in a long time, there’s a true battle in training camp to determine who will be Henrik Lundqvist’s backup. Today we’re going to look at the three netminders who hope to be the King’s understudy in 2018-19.

Alexandar Georgiev

Georgiev’s youth, potential, and his impressive play after being a late call-up last season all make him the early favorite to be Lundqvist’s understudy this year. But as Blueshirt Banter’s own Tom Urtz Jr. pointed out, making him earn the backup role in camp makes a lot of sense.

Competition is never a bad thing, and I don’t blame the Rangers for wanting to make Alexandar Georgiev earn the job. He was sensational in a short stretch for the Rangers after his promotion from Hartford, but it was a very small sample. It is also worth mentioning that he won the starting job in Hartford last year, but struggled and lost the job to Marek Mazanec.

So, is Georgiev the goalie who posted a .918 save percentage at the NHL-level behind a crumbling defense in 514:46 TOI (all situations), or is he the goalie who posted a .909 save percentage in the AHL behind a paper thin defense in 2075:38 TOI (all situations)? If that AHL save percentage makes you nervous, it’s important to note that Georgiev bounced back from a rough start. In the New Year, he had a .930 save percentage for the Wolf Pack — that sounds a lot more like the goalie we saw surprise us in New York last year.

Buffalo Sabres v New York Rangers Photo by Abbie Parr/Getty Images

As we all know, goalie evaluation is more an art form than a science — and evaluating young goalies is a little bit like making sense of a Jackson Pollock painting. Georgiev is small by NHL goaltending standards, but he’s already had great success playing against men in the Liiga. If we judge him by his play in the second half of last season, there’s good cause to be optimistic about his ability to serve as a bridge — or maybe more — between Lundqvist and Igor Shesterkin.

The Rangers need to reel in the number of starts that Lundqvist has been getting and they need to figure out what they have in Georgiev. Unless the wheels fall off in camp and in the preseason, he’s the clear favorite for the backup role.

Marek Mazanec

Mazanec was a late addition to the Wolf Pack last season and was brought in to turn things around in the goal crease. The Czech netminder turned 27 in July, so he’s a little too hold to be considered a prospect, but that doesn’t mean another appearance in the NHL is out of the question; it’s just unlikely.

Last season with the Wolf Pack Mazanec posted a .905 save percentage, but he finished the season with a winning record. However, he did have a .918 save percentage in the six games he played before getting sidelined by a leg injury. When he returned to Hartford’s lineup, the defense in front of him was filled with ECHL-level talent. Mazanec had an .893 save percentage in his final eight starts of the season, which dragged his final numbers down.

Mazanec is a big, full-right goalie who has over 30 games of NHL experience under his belt, but he has yet to show the form he needs to hold a regular spot on an NHL roster. However, he earned a new contract from the Rangers this summer, so he has another opportunity to establish himself as an NHL goaltender.

Dustin Tokarski

Tokarski, 29, is the oldest goaltender in camp not named Lundqvist.

The Rangers signed him on Aug. 20 to add some more competition in camp and to improve the Wolf Pack’s goaltending. Tokarski is coming off of an impressive 20-game season with the Lehigh Valley Phantoms. He finished the season with a .915 save percentage, which was a huge improvement over his efficiency the year before when he was backstopping the San Diego Gulls.

It’s hard to say just how much playing behind a better team in Lehigh Valley buoyed Tokarski’s numbers last year, but it definitely made an impact. Both the Rangers and the Wolf Pack will have below-average defenses this season, so this year should be a big test for the AHL journeyman.

Tokarski is a longshot to make the Rangers out of camp, even after the solid numbers he had in the AHL last year. However, it is worth noting that both he and Mazanec will have to go through waivers if/when they’re assigned to Hartford, but Georgiev will not. It’s just a little wrinkle to consider, but it is highly unlikely that the Rangers will stow Georgiev in the AHL in order to avoid losing a veteran AHL-level goaltender on a one-year deal. That is just not going to happen.