Fleury – Crosby – Malkin. Check.

Holtby – Ovechkin – Backstrom. Check.

Bishop – Stamkos – Johnson – et al. Next up.

While the eyes of the NHL will be on Ben Bishop, Steven Stamkos and Tyler Johnson, the eyes of Rangers fans will be on the et al part of the equation as prodigal sons Ryan Callahan, Brian Boyle and Anton Stralman attempt to prove that you can go home again.

Of course, the Blueshirts can match the Lightning “expatriate” for “expatriate” as Martin St. Louis, Dan Boyle and Dominic Moore look to spoil their former organization’s run to the Stanley Cup.

In truth, each team’s connection to the other runs a couple of players deeper. On the Rangers side, former Tampa Bay forward Ryan Malone appeared in six games with the Blueshirts before being assigned to Hartford and retiring. Defenseman Mike Kostka appeared in 22 games with the Lightning last year, including three in the playoffs.

On Tampa Bay’s side, Jonathan Marchessault was a member of the Rangers Connecticut Wolves AHL affiliate in 2011-12 (76-24-40-64) being signing with Columbus prior to the 2012-13 season.

As Rangers fans have come to learn, it don’t come easy as their team’s path to prosperity is hardly paved with gold. All 12 of the Blueshirts games have been one-goal decisions this season and, if you factor in the last two games of the Stanley Cup Final, that figure is 14 straight. In fact, 19 of the Rangers last 21 playoff games have been decided by one goal.

The Rangers fondness for 2-1 games is something that seems to be shared by other playoff teams. Through the first two rounds, over one quarter of playoff games ended with a 2-1 score.

The Rangers Eastern Conference Final foes handed them three losses in the space of 15 days from November 17-December 1, with Tampa Bay outscoring New York 15-7.

While at first blush the Lightning’s dominance seems to be extremely disconcerting, but a closer look tells a different story. The Rangers followed their December 1 loss to Tampa Bay with a 3-2 loss to Detroit on December 6 – a game that saw the Rangers blow a 2-0 first period lead. The Rangers were just one game over .500 and a deep run into the playoffs was not on too many people’s minds.

However, that loss turned out to be the turning point of the season. Starting with an overtime win over Pittsburgh, the Blueshirts ran off eight consecutive wins before losing at Dallas on December 29. The Rangers followed that loss to the Stars with a five game winning streak that included their three-game sweep of the California teams.

The Rangers went on an unprecedented 42-12-3 run that turned a run-of-the-mill 11-10-4 team into a 53-22-7 team that won the Presidents’ Trophy.

The bottom line is that the current New York Rangers are a much different (and better) team than the Lightning at the beginning of the season. Heck, Tampa Bay can the same thing as Johnson and defenseman Victor Hedman elevated their play to an elite level. But the Rangers difference is both one in terms of different personnel (Keith Yandle and James Sheppard) and growth of youngsters who are making a difference in the lineup on a nightly basis (Jesper Fast, Kevin Hayes and J.T. Miller).

In addition, the Rangers played the first two games against Tampa Bay without Captain Ryan McDonough and Fast was out of the lineup in the first game. Boyle and Tanner Glass missed the third game and while McDonagh did play, it was only his third game back in the lineup.

Of course, all of those regular season accolades go out the window once the playoffs arrive. While the Rangers can set aside their two weeks of hell against the Lightning, they should not forget it or they will be condemned to repeat it.

They need to heed the numbers Tampa Bay’s best offensive players posted during the three games. Stamkos led the Lighting in points with seven (2-5) and former Rangers captain Callahan paced the Lightning with four goals (two on the PP).

The Lightning’s Triplets Line of Tyler Johnson, Ondrej Palat and Nikita Kucherov combined for five goals and eight assists.

While all of those offensive numbers look good, their pale in comparison to the
6-foot-7 gorilla in the room – goaltender Ben Bishop. The fact that Bishop’s goals against average in the three games was 2.34 is a testament to the Rangers “success” against this season.

Bishop, who is 8-0 against the Rangers, entered the season with only seven goals against in his previous five games. Overall, Bishop’s GAA against the Rangers is 1.49 thanks to a .946 SV % and two shutouts.

As a comparison, Henrik Lundqvist is 17-12-6 with a 2.41 GAA and .914 SV% in 35 career games against the Lightning.

Another stat to consider is that St. Louis had two PPGs against his former teammates, but he played a team worst -6 in the series (as did Dan Girardi).

While the Lightning are a solid defensive team, 12th best during the regular season and 5th best in the playoffs, Tampa Bay’s game is built on their offense which led the NHL during the regular season and is 4th in the playoffs.

While Tampa Bay has size, especially on defense with the likes of Hedman (6-6), Andrej Sustr (6-7) and Braydon Coburn (6-5); and don’t forget Boyle who matches Sustr’s 6-7 frame, the Lightning are not expected to go out of their way to try and intimidate the Rangers through physical play.

Rather, the Lightning will look to pressure the Rangers by using their talent, speed and quickness. In doing so, they might be doing the Blueshirts a big favor.

It is interesting to see how the Rangers style of play and that of their opponents have developed over the years and through the playoffs.

In the Rangers matchups against Pittsburgh and Washington, the Blueshirts faced off against teams with offensive firepower but were more concerned with defending the Rangers speed, blocking shots and being overly physical than they were playing their own game. It was very reminiscent of the John Tortorella Era New York Rangers.

In facing Tampa Bay, the Rangers are facing a team that is similar to the Alain Vigneault New York Rangers. Both teams are built to beat you with their skating and speed. While neither team is overly physical, they are not going to back down from the physical play and both teams make sure to finish their checks.

Both teams watched as their main offensive guns, Stamkos/Callahan and Nash/St. Louis, struggled at the start of the playoffs. Both teams were living on superb efforts from secondary scorers. In the Lightning’s case, The Triplets have registered unreal numbers with 17 goals and 14 assists in 13 playoff games.

Each team has faced their come-to-Jesus meeting in the playoffs, Tampa Bay coming from behind to eliminate Detroit in the first round and the Rangers with their historic comeback against Washington.

In looking at the Rangers-Lightning series, here are five keys to a Rangers victory:

FORECHECK
The easiest way to slow down the Lightning’s top two lines is to keep them pinned in their own end. While Hedman is among the NHL elite defenseman and Stralman has elevated his game, the rest of Tampa Bay’s d-men are not big-time puck carriers. The Ranges best strategy might be to dump the puck into Hedman’s corner and look to hit him early and often and tire him out/slow him down before he starts the Lightning rush. Tampa Bay has been known to dress seven d-men and might do so once Callahan proves that he is fully over his appendix removed.

BEST PLAYERS MUST STEP UP
It is a foregone conclusion that teams need their best players to play their best in the playoffs. For the most part, that has been the case for the Rangers but two players in particular must step their game up an extra notch.

Rick Nash has probably played some of the best two-way hockey he has ever played in his career. Far too many times a star offensive player will allow his scoring slump at affect his defensive zone play. That has hardly been the case with Nash. With that said, the Rangers need him to step up his offensive production and start burying some of the chances he is getting. Instead of trying to be cute and get Braden Holtby to pen up his pads, Nash should have hit the slot with a wicked wrister on his Game 7 breakaway.

Nash could probably get away with being a playmaker if the third forward on his line could find his scoring touch. While Derick Brassard is tied with Chris Kreider for the team lead in goals (5), St. Louis has been nothing but a disappointment offensively in the playoffs.

The jump in his step that was his calling card for years in Tampa Bay is practically – so much so that Brooks Orpik managed to catch him from behind. It is possible that his knee is giving him trouble or it is possible that the end is near for St. Louis. After all, it is usually a player’s legs that go first and that is a death knell for a player who made his living on his speed and skating.

The bigger concern is that it seems that his hands and ability to finish have vanished as well. He was unable to bury a couple of close-in chances against Holtby – the kinds of shots that he used to bury in the past.

SPECIAL TEAMS
This is always a major key in every playoff series and will continue to be as long as the Rangers offense continues to struggle and as long as the Rangers continue to play one-goal games in the playoffs. Given the Rangers season-long struggles on the PP, they had success against Tampa Bay scoring three goals on 10 PP chances. Marty St. Louis scored two of them and Dan Boyle added the third.

The Blueshirts are going to need to find ways to increase their offense and improving their PP is the first step. Whether it is on the PP or at even strength, the Rangers are going to have to do some dirty work in front of the net in terms of being more than just a finesse team. They need to add a lot more “jam” to their game as Tortorella would say.

The Lightning was 4-12 with the man advantage against the Rangers in the regular season.

Carl Hagelin pointed out that stopping the Tampa Bay power play will also go a long way in slowing down The Triplets.

“Their Triplet Line there is really clicking,” Hagelin explained to Dan Rosen of NHL.com. “I think it starts with their [power play], and that’s where they get a lot of momentum. We’ve got to focus on just playing well defensively. I think if we do that we’re going to get some chances.”

BEN BISHOP
The Rangers are going to have to find a way to beat Bishop. They should probably study the Habs-Lightning Game 4 tapes to see what Montreal did to drive Bishop to bench 5:08 into the second period after allowing three goals on 14 shots.

Obviously, the Rangers are going to need to get traffic in front of the big guy and hope they can get to any rebounds. They also might want to steal a page from the Pens and Caps playbook and gently “brush” Bishop every now and then during scrums in front. Bishop does have the tendency to lose his composure if the going gets physical in front.

One thing the Rangers might want to do is get Bishop moving laterally. Big goaltenders and are a lot like big pitchers. It is easier for a big goalie (or big pitcher for that matter) to lose focus when their mechanics are off. The easiest way to foul up a 6-foot-7 netminder’s mechanics is to get him moving and forcing him to track down the puck, as opposed to letting the puck come to him. At that point, the smallest correction to their mechanics can become a major production.

DEFENSIVE ZONE COVERAGE
It is no surprise at times that the Rangers get pinned in their own zones for long stretches at a time. Despite the company line that the Rangers play a man-to-man defensive coverage, they do not. At best, they play what could be described as a matchup zone.

The Rangers forwards continue to drop down below the tops of the faceoff circles in order to cut off the shooting lanes – which means they are playing a spot (i.e. zone) on the ice. If they were playing man-to-man, two forwards (usually the wingers) would shadow the point men. Since the Rangers don’t do that, opposing forwards know they can pretty much use the point men as an unchecked outlet if they are being pressured down low. If you play close attention to it, you will notice how wide open the opposing point men are. As a result, the Rangers run into problems when they start chasing the puck rather than playing the man.

THE PREDICTION

Teams never really face a “Must-Win” situation until they face elimination. With that said, Saturday afternoon’s Game 1 is a “Really Wanna-Win” situation for the Rangers for two reasons. First off, the Blueshirts want to head down to Tampa Bay with two wins in their pockets.

Secondly, and more importantly, the rangers need to put to rest the questions about the regular season and Bishop’s dominance as soon as possible. The sooner they get that settled, the faster they can get down to concentrating on winning the series.

The mind and the heart are split on this one. My mind is telling me that the Rangers three regular season losses to the Lightning can be explained, but they can’t be overlooked. Both teams have come a long way since their final meeting on December 1. Of course, there is still the little matter of never having beaten Ben Bishop to deal with.

My mind could have been easily persuaded to join the heart if injuries weren’t such a big concern for the Blueshirts. Mats Zuccarello’s status continues to be uncertain, although some rumblings say that The Little Italian Norwegian Kid could see action later in the series.

While Dan Boyle did join his teammates on the ice for their Game 7 celebration and handshake line against the Capitals, you have to figure he is day-to-day and will be a game time decision for Game 1. While Matt Hunwick has done a fine job whenever he has been called upon, the revenge factor makes Boyle’s availability important.

The same can be said for Martin St. Louis. Either he is still dealing with knee issues (or some other injury) or we have witnessed the downfall of a former elite player.

The heart tells me that the Rangers have been overcoming this type of injury adversity from the beginning of the season. So much so that “Next Man Up” could be considered the team’s unofficial rallying cry.

While Ryan Callahan returned to practice, his availability for Game 1 won’t be determined until Saturday. Most fans expect Callahan to play, but how effective will he be and how effective can he be.

Tampa Bay has a lot of offensive ability, especially from their secondary scorers like The Triplets. However, the Rangers have the best corps of defensemen in the playoffs and they managed to contain Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin in the first round and did a pretty darn good job on Alex Ovechkin (a couple of goals not withstanding) and Nicklas Backstrom.

During the last two years of playoff hockey, the Rangers have proven to be a resilient team – at least outside of the Stanley Cup Final. The Madison Square Garden crowd, especially those in the expensive seats, get criticized for being too stoic and corporate – which are things you don’t want from your fandom. However, it is something that you want in your hockey team – and it is something the Rangers have thrived on.

Former Rangers and NHL Dave Farrish has been providing an insight into his former team during the playoffs for NHL.com and credits the Rangers doing exactly that.

“No matter what the situation was they were very even keeled,” the former Ducks and Maple Leafs assistant coach told Dan Rosen. “They weren’t high when they won or low when they lost. There were very businesslike. Their attitude never changed. You couldn’t tell if they won the game or lost the game by their tone of voice after the game, especially Henrik. I thought that was very impressive, to maintain your balance like that.”

The Rangers resiliency has served them well throughout the regular season and the playoffs. They have overcome injuries, poor seasons from star players and inability of star players to score in the playoffs. They have mastered the ability to live on edge while their fans are living on the ledge with all of the one-goal games. The Rangers bend to the point of breaking, then bend a little more, before bouncing back to right the ship.

Leave it to The King to put the final stamp on my Eastern Conference Final Prediction.

“[The Lightning are] a team we had some problems with during the season,” Henrik Lundqvist explained to Rosen, “but if there’s one thing I learned, playoffs are a different story.”

Much like they always seem to do, the New York Rangers will find a way to overcome the roadblocks placed in front of them. The Blueshirts will return to the Stanley Cup Final after a hard fought seven game series against Tampa Bay.

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If it is Spring time and the hockey playoffs are blooming, then it must be time for the New York Rangers and Washington Capitals annual playoff series. While that might not be the whole truth, it is pretty darn close as the Battle of Broadway versus the Beltway lines up for the fifth time in the last seven years – and three in the last four playoffs.

The way these two teams are going this playoff matchup is going to have more sequels than the “Rocky” saga.

David Satriano and Dan Rosen of nhl.com pointed out that Dan Girardi, Henrik Lundqvist and Marc Staal are the only Rangers to have played in the previous four playoff matchups. The Capitals have five players: Nicklas Backstrom, Eric Fehr, Mike Green, Brooks Laich and Alexander Ovechkin. Jay Beagle appeared in four playoff games in 2009, but did not play in the Rangers-Capitals series.

The Capitals Game 7 elimination of the New York Islanders robbed New York hockey fans of the first Rangers-Islanders playoff matchup in 21 years – and I say good riddance.

It would be bad enough if the Rangers are eliminated by the Capitals, but could imagine the scene if the Islanders were the team eliminating the Blueshirts? There would be a conga line a mile long stretching from Madison Square Garden to the East River as Rangers fans lined up for a long walk off a very short pier.

In terms of substance, whether they were playing the Capitals of the Islanders, the Rangers would be facing a team that is more physical than Pittsburgh. While the Penguins tried be punishing hitters, they are no match for the Capitals (or even the Islanders for that matter).

You can expect Washington to come out hitting from the opening faceoff of the opening game. While Tom Wilson has drawn the most ink because of his hot on Lubomir Visnovksy, the most physical player they need to worry about is the Capitals best player – Alexander Ovechkin.

Ovie has no problems leading the seek-and-destroy missions that has become the Capitals calling card. In addition to his size, Ovechkin enjoys the superstar designation that allows him to play over the line without the fear of reprisal from the National Hockey League.

The Rangers cannot afford to get caught up trying to answer every hit the Capitals dish out. While they do need to maintain a physical presence, the Rangers are going to win the series by doing what they do best. As physical as the Caps might be, you can’t hit what you can’t catch.

The first obstacle is going to be shaking off the rust as the Rangers get back into playoff mode after being off a week – something the team needed in the long run.

“We played 13 games in 22 days, and a lot of it was against teams that were … trying to get into the playoffs,” Coach Alain Vigneault explained to Avery Stone of USA Today. “I think this (break) is going to be very beneficial for us. We’ve got a couple little bumps and bruises that we’re in the process of healing.”

While the time off won’t be enough to allow Mars Zuccarello to return to the lineup, it did allow Kevin Klein to get in the necessary practice to return to the lineup.
In looking at the Rangers-Capitals series, I see five keys to a Rangers victory.

DISCIPLINE

This key is a multi-layered one. First and foremost, the Rangers have to stay out of the penalty box. While Washington’s power play has been nothing to write home about during the playoffs, the Capitals did own the regular season’s best power play. There is no need to poke the bear with a stick at this point in the season.

Secondly, the Rangers need to remember that skating, speed and solid two-way play is what led them, to the Presidents Trophy during the regular season. They must not be drawn into matching the Capitals hit-for-hit. Take the body when you can and don’t be drawn into any retaliation penalties.

MOVEMENT

The easiest way to avoid hits is to keep moving – both in terms on constantly being in motion (i.e. skating) and keeping the puck moving. This movement is crucial to the Rangers power play. The Rangers power play is at its best when both pucks and players are moving.

The Blueshirts get themselves into trouble when they start playing a passive (and stationary) box and appear content to move the puck around the perimeter. A team that does not move on its power play makes itself very easy to defend.

TRANSITION

The Rangers will make things easier on themselves if they are able to alleviate the pressure (and physical play) the Capitals are dishing out if they are able to get the puck out of the zone.

The ability to break Washington’s forecheck will not only lessen the Caps ability to punish the Rangers defense corps, it will allow the Blueshirts to use their speed advantage in the overall transition game – which is the key to the Rangers offense.

As part of this emphasis on transition, it means the Rangers are going to win the “battle of the blue lines” – both in their zone and at the Capitals blue line.

In their defensive zone, the Rangers are going to have to work extra hard at winning the battle along the boards – especially within five feet of the blue line. If Washington is able to win those battles and keep the 50-50 pucks within the Rangers end, the Capitals are going to be able to use their size to eventually wear down five tired skaters.

At the Capitals blue line, the Rangers can’t afford to turn the puck over at the blue line. If they have no advantage on the attack they need to get the puck deep and work on the Capitals defense corps. The hope is that the Rangers speed lets them win the puck battles or at least force the Caps into taking penalties.

SPECIAL TEAMS

A big key rests on how the referees are going to call this series. If the Rangers speed game is working, they are going to draw a fair share of penalties against the Capitals. If they referees are going to let obstruction go, then it will be a long series.

A long series can get even longer if they Rangers power play is not producing any consistent offense. The Rangers don’t need to score on every man advantage (one out of four would be good), but they do need to able to maintain sustained pressure on a large number of power plays.

The more success the Rangers have on the power play, the less inclined Washington will be too “take liberties” with their physical play. Between having to face an active Rangers power play and watching Ovechkin sit for long periods of time (think Sidney Crosby, Game 1 Period 1), the Capitals will have to curtail their physical play a bit.

In terms of penalty killing, stop Ovechkin! The entire NHL knows that Ovie likes to set up on his off-wing at the top of the left circle and wait to line up one of howitzer-like one-timers.

During the last two regular season games the teams played, the Rangers left the Capitals captain WIDE open for those shots as he netted two PPGs.

While the Rangers don’t want to be caught focusing all of their attention on Ovechkin, it might behoove them to consider a triangle-and-one at times (keep someone on Ovechkin at all times and play a triangle formation) to try and confuse the Capitals.

Better yet, just stay out of the penalty box altogether.

BRADEN HOLTBY

MSG analyst Steve Valiquette pointed out that he thinks Braden Holtby might be wearing down because of the workload he handled this year. Valiquette thought Holtby was staying down on his knees and not regaining proper positioning following his first save – something he did criticize Marc-Andre Fleury for on Carl Hagelin series-winning goal in Game 5.

The numbers do bear Valiquette out. Holtby led the NHL is games played, minutes and saves this year. Including his six playoff games (he missed Game 2 against the Islanders because he was sick), Holtby has played in 79 games so far – surpassing his career high of 55 (last season). He has played nearly 6,000 minutes – nearly doubling the 3,100 minutes he played last season.

That is quite a heavy workload for a goaltender who is not used to it. The Rangers to keep pressure on Holtby as much as possible to see if they can wear him down by sheer quantity, never mind quality. They can up the ante on the quantity by getting bodies to the net and creating a lot of traffic in front of him.

THE PREDICTION

I would feel a lot more confident in picking the Rangers to win if Mats Zuccarello would be in the lineup. While James Sheppard’s size will be a welcomed addition to the lineup, the Blueshirts will miss the Little Italian Norwegian Kid’s ability to open up a game with his vision and determination.

With that said, the Rangers have shown an ability to overcome whatever speed bumps the 2014-2015 season have thrown at them. Whether it was injuries to Henrik Lundqvist, Derek Stepan and Kevin Klein, there was always a Cam Talbot, Kevin Hayes or Matt Hunwick ready to step in and fill the void – the “Next Man Up” theme that WFAN’s Boomer Esiason has always espoused about this season’s New York Rangers.

While the Capitals have the best player on the ice in Alexander Ovechkin, and maybe even the second best player in Nicklas Backstrom, the Rangers have the better team from one to 20.

It is not going to be an easy series. Nothing is ever easy when it comes to the New York Rangers. Who else but the Rangers would make winning a five-game series seem like winning a seven-game series where every game went into overtime?

Let’s face it; the Rangers almost always have to do things the hard way. Their last seven playoff games have been decided by one goal. Nine of their last 10 playoff games have been one-goal games. 12 of their last 14 games are, you guessed it, one-goal games. Of those 14 games, three went to double overtime and three were settled in “regular” overtime.

As they have done in the past, the Rangers will find a way to soldier on and advance to the Eastern Conference Final in, what else, a seven game series victory on home ice – in overtime.

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It is an interesting week for hockey fans as the post season drama goes on with two big games ahead. Four teams will battle it out with the most interesting tie being the New York Islanders-Washington Capitals Game 7. The other game to watch is Detroit Red Wings taking on Tampa Bay Lightning in Game 6. While the Lightning will be putting in effort to try and force a Game 7 with the Red Wings, New York Islanders will be looking to impress after successfully forcing a Game 7 with the Capitals. If you wish to cash in on the action, you can check out the NHL odds for the upcoming playoffs games here.

Let us take a look at these games individually and see the build up to the match-ups.

Washington Capitals Vs New York Islanders

This Game 7 will take place at 7:30 p.m. ET with the series tied at 3-3. Although this is just what the Islanders wanted, a Game 7 is never an easy game both for the fans and the players as it means almost 3 hours of intense physical test. This will be a big game for the Islanders as it is their chance to finally make it to the 2nd round of the post season, something that they last achieved back in 1992-1993. Back then, they beat the Pittsburgh Penguins which was the best team in the NHL at the time. Since then, it has been an agonizing 14 missed opportunities for them to reach the second round.

By the look of things this could be the most favorable chance for the Islanders to qualify. The Washington Capitals have their defensive weaknesses which the Islanders will be looking to exploit. However, the Roster still has one of the most dangerous offensive plays in the league. The lapse in defense is also compensated by their inform goalie who showed his quality in Game 6. It all boils down to who wants it most and who will execute their game plan effectively and win it all. Your pick should be Capitals 3, Islanders 1.

Detroit Red Wings Vs Tampa Bay Lightning

The lightning scored three late goals in Game 4 to overturn a 2-0 deficit, something which was instrumental in keeping the season alive up to now. While the Lightning will be trying to make a Game 7 match-up happen against the Red Wings, they will have to come up with a strategy to get past the strong Wings defense. In addition Petr Mrazek, the Red Wings goalie, will be another stumbling block for the Tampa Bay.

At the Lightning camp, the players’ struggle to score continues with Tyler Johnson being the only one in the squad who has been scoring freely. Steven Stamkos will go into match 6 still goalless in the series. If he is to score, it will take something special for him to beat Pavel Datsyuk whom he doesn’t have a good record against. The Red Wings not only have depth in their squad, but most of their players have also been scoring at will. Nine of their players have a goal each and 13 of them have at least 2 points each so far.

The pick is Red Wings 4, Tampa Bay Lightning 2

 

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The New York Rangers enter the 2015 Stanley Cup season as the hunted instead of the hunter. The bullseye is drawn on the Rangers is doubled in size because, first off they are the Rangers and secondly they face the extra burden of winning the Presidents’ Trophy for the third time since the trophy was awarded at the end of the 1985-86 season.

“We have to embrace it, and challenge ourselves,” Rick Nash told Brett Cyrgalis of the NY Post. “We’re obviously going to be the team to beat.”

No fan of the Blueshirts will ever forget the last time the Rangers were the NHL’s Presidents’ Trophy winner. It was the season that saw the end of the curse and the end of “1940” chants (except for the sarcastic one the Garden faithful chanted that fateful night).

While fans might want to forget the first time the Rangers won the Presidents’ Trophy, they should remember it or face the wrath of being condemned to repeat it.

After eliminating the New Jersey Devils by winning a Game 7 for the first time in franchise history, the Rangers squared off against the Pittsburgh Penguins in 1992.

It was a series that featured Adam Graves being suspended for four games for breaking Mario Lemieux’s left wrist. With the Rangers up two games to one and a 4-2 third period lead and with a chance to put the game away with a five-minute power play, the Blueshirts snatched defeat from the jaws of victory when a Ron Francis shot from outside the blue line eluded goalie Mike Richter.

About 90 seconds later Jaromir Jagr tied the game. Richter was so rattled that Jaromir Jagr nearly beat a wandering Richter with a shot from center ice. Coach Roger Neilson replaced Richter with John Vanbiesbrouck and it was Beezer who was victimized by Mark Messier’s turnover in overtime that led to Ron Francis completing the hat trick and tying the series at 2-2. Pittsburgh would win the next two games and end the Rangers Cup hopes.

Of course that was 23 years ago and times have changed. If a Rangers player ever came close to doing to Sidney Crosby what Graves did to Lemieux – well let’s just say said Rangers player would be collecting Social Security by the time his suspension was over.

The NHL has to be thrilled as the league prepares for the Stanley Cup playoffs – especially those in power who favor parity. Only 16 points separated the Rangers (first in points) and Calgary Flames (final playoff qualifier). That is the fewest amount of points since 16 teams made the playoffs. The last time that gap was less was in 1964-65 when just four of six teams made the playoffs.

With the Los Angeles Kings missing the playoffs, the NHL will see its 16th different Stanley Cup champion crowned. No team has won back-t-back Cups since the Detroit Red Wings in 1996-97 and 1997-98.

Also lending itself to NFL-like parity, the NHL saw seven teams make the playoffs this year after missing out last year – the largest turnover in league history.

Even within the game itself, parity appeared to reign. Nearly 605 of games (719 of the 1,230) were one-goal games or one-goal plus an empty net goal.

As for the 2015 version of this rivalry, many people will point to the Rangers speed and overall attention to defense and the return to form of Henrik Lundqvist as the key to the series.

Some people will point to the revenge Crosby and Evgeni Malkin want to dish out after the Penguins failed to capitalize on the three games to one lead last year. Still others will point to Marc-Andre Fleury and his need to replicate his 2009 Stanley Cup heroics rather than revisit his 2012 playoffs meltdown.

I see this series as one of attrition – especially among the Penguins blueliners. Pittsburgh enters the playoffs without Kris Letang who is suffering from post-concussion syndrome.

Also gone are veteran d-men Matt Niskanen and Brooks Orpik who both left during the summer.

The status of injured defensemen Christian Ehrhoff, Olli Maatta and Derrick Pouliot are unknown – although Jenn Menendez of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette wrote that Coach Mike Johnston thinks Pouliot, and possibly Ehrhoff, could be available for playoff duty at some point. Things were so bad for the Penguins that they were only able to dress five defensemen by the end of the season because of injuries and cap concerns – and one of them was minor league veteran Taylor Chorney.

It is interesting that the Penguins found themselves with such cap constraints considering that they placed Dupuis and Maatta on LTIR – according to Rob Rossi of TribLive.com.

Actually, if Rossi’s April 11 article is true, then there is a big disconnect in the Steel City in terms of the organization, from top to bottom.

Rossi states that Pittsburgh settled on current GM Jim Rutherford after failing to hire their number one priority – player agent Pat Brisson, who just happens to be Crosby’s agent.

Rutherford, who was only allowed to hire one outsider for his staff, was expected to provide mentorship for former Ray Shero hires Jason Botterill, Tom Fitzgerald, and Bill Guerin. The implication was that Rutherford was a placeholder for one of these three.

Much like Rutherford, Johnston was not Pittsburgh’s first choice as coach. Instead, their number one target left for Vancouver’s job (Willie Desjardins).

Also like Rutherford, Johnston was able to bring in one outside assistant coach (Gary Agnew) as Rick Tocchet and goalie coach Mike Bales were retained.

The Penguins have been able to dip down to their AHL affiliate to recall d-men Brian Dumoulin and Scott Harrington. It will be interesting to see how much ice time and responsibility rookie head coach Mike Johnston gives two his rookie defenseman.

Even the vaunted Penguins forward corps has seen its share of injury woes. Pascal Dupuis was limited to just 16 games before blood clots ended his season. Even Malkin has been suffering from an undisclosed injury that seen him go without a goal for the final 10 games of the regular season.

The Rangers are probably as healthy as any team can expect to be at this time of the season. Marc Staal appears ready to return to action and should be given the task of shutting down Crosby.

Injured defenseman Kevin Klein was not on the ice as the Rangers returned to practice on Tuesday – and he did not practice on Wednesday either. Coach Alain Vigneault has let it be known that Klein must return to practice before getting back into the lineup. On the plus side, Matt Hunwick has not looked out of place.

Even with Letang on the sidelines, the Penguins power play has enough offensive power to make the Rangers pay for any undisciplined play. As good as the Penguins power play has been (10th in the NHL), their penalty killing has been even better finishing third in the league.

As a comparison, the Blueshirts power play limped home as the 21st rated man advantage while their penalty killing was again a bright spot – sixth in the NHL.

As the Nashville Predators can attest in their Game 1 loss to the Chicago Blackhawks, special team play can swing the momentum of a game.

The 2014-2015 NHL season has really been a season within a season for both squads. Earlier in the year, the Rangers trailed the Penguins by as many as 13 points. While the Rangers gathered steam and finished strong (despite the lackluster home finale against Ottawa), Pittsburgh limped home with a 4-9-2 record (including five losses in a row) and needed to win their final game of the season against Buffalo just to qualify for the playoffs.

With the Penguins facing the possibility of playing such an inexperienced defense, it is imperative that the Rangers make the Pittsburgh blueliners uncomfortable in their own end. The Blueshirts will need to ratchet up their forechecking in order to force the Penguins defense into turnovers that can be converted into scoring chances because Fleury has been solid in goal this year – posting an NHL best 10 shutouts on the season.

The Rangers will also help their case by staying out of the penalty box. The Rangers were able to overcome the Penguins last year by limiting the likes of Crosby and Malkin. It was a strategy that the Rangers followed during their regular season success against Pittsburgh.

Malkin and Nick Spaling paced the Pittsburgh offense with three points each, with Malkin being the lone Penguin with more than one goal.

Prediction: I predict that I will be suffering from agita, aggravation and many sleepless nights – and I hope it last well over two months.

As for the series, I see the Rangers winning it in six games as their speed and forechecking will provide too much for the Penguins defenseman to handle. If the Blueshirts can hold serve during the first two games at MSG, they might be able to do themselves a favor and wrap up the series in five. My advice for the Rangers is for them to seize their home ice advantage and not give Pittsburgh any chance to avenge last season’s playoff collapse.

The interesting point will be to see what the loser of this series does moving forward. Does the losing team’s management decide that the organization has one more run in them as currently constituted, or does management decide that the current roster has taken the team as far as it can and that major changes are the next step in the organization’s evolutionary process.

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GM Glen Sather was able to channel his inner Harry Houdini at the NHL Trade Deadline after all. With limited cap space going into the final days of trading, the 71-year-old Slats wheeled-and-dealed like a GM half his age. Granted the price was steep, but it had to be if Sather wanted to land an impact player – while managing a payroll with little salary cap flexibility.

With the acquisition of Keith Yandle from the Arizona Coyotes, Sather pushed all of chips to the middle of table and declared himself all-in. Only time will tell if Slats is playing with a royal flush or if he was bluffing. The one thing we do know is that the Rangers are a better team now after the deadline than they were before it.

I have to admit that my first thought on the Yandle deal was the Rangers gave up too much of their future. After having some time to digest the ramifications of the trade, I still believe that. However, when you look closer at the Rangers you realize that they are a team whose future is now.

While they have enough young players to get them beyond the next couple of years, time is not on the side of Henrik Lundqvist. The King just turned 33-years-old and, while that is not ancient in terms of goaltenders, he is on the backend of his career and his (and the Rangers) window to win is closing.

While his injury was a freak one, it does show how fragile the Rangers window of opportunity is. As well as Cam Talbot has played, the Blueshirts need Lundqvist in goal, at his best, come playoff time.

The core of the Rangers have already experienced two visits to the Eastern Conference Final and one to the Stanley Cup Final. There comes a time when an organization needs to make one final push in order to get over that final hurdle and reach the promised land of a championship.

Rangers fans only need to look back at the Emile Francis Rangers of the late 60s and early 70s. As good (and sometimes great) as those teams were, they were unable to take the final step(s) and win the Stanley Cup.

Their best chance came in 1971-1972 when Jean Ratelle’s broken ankle prevented the Rangers from taking on the Boston Bruins at 100% capacity.

At the same time, Francis never could identify that missing piece or two that would have vaulted the Rangers from also-rans to champions.

In 1994, Neil Smith gambled on restructuring the roster of what was the best team in hockey at the trade deadline. The Blueshirts paid a price in terms of losing prospects and young/talented players, but that was not on any Rangers fans minds at 10:58pm on June 14, 1994.

That is where the Rangers stand now, except Sather went for broke without turning over his roster like Smith did in 1994.

Sather was able to acquire Yandle, James Sheppard, Carl Klingberg and Chris Summers without too much disruption to his regular lineup. John Moore never quite took ownership of the sixth d-men spot and Lee Stempniak’s spot in the lineup was tenuous at best so trading him cleared a little salary space.

Actually if the figures at NHLNumbers.com are correct, the Rangers have about $750,000 worth of cap space open.

This year Klingberg and Summers will provide the Hartford Wolf Pack with some experience and serve as a modicum of insurance if the injury bug hits the Blueshirts in a bad way.

It goes without saying that Yandle is the key to Sather’s deadline dealings. Most hockey experts point to the offensive defenseman as being the reason why the Rangers appear to be big winners (at least in the present tense) at the trade deadline. When you have noted Rangers dissenters like Mike Milbury and Greg Wyshynski praising your moves, you know you have done something right.

USA Today’s Kevin Allen listed the Rangers first among NHL teams when reviewing the deadline transactions. Allen wrote, “General manager Glen Sather landed the biggest difference-maker in the marketplace when he acquired offensively gifted defenseman Keith Yandle from the Arizona Coyotes. He is among the NHL’s best puck movers and power play point men. Sather paid a heavy price, but this gives the Rangers a defense that includes Ryan McDonagh, Dan Girardi, Marc Staal, Kevin Klein, Dan Boyle and Yandle. No Eastern Conference team has a more skilled defense than the Rangers.”

Much has been made about Yandle’s horrible plus/minus numbers with the Coyotes. Fortunately for me, I take those number with a grain of salt. If four players on the ice are doing their job defensively and one player misses a defensive assignment – everyone one the ice gets a minus.

If plus/minus is such a great stat then explain to me how Marek Malik led the NHL in plus/minus during the 2003/2004 season. Actually, he tied for the lead with future Ranger Martin St. Louis – both players were +35.

If plus/minus is such a great stat then that must mean Calgary’s T.J. Brodie is the best defenseman in the NHL because his +23 is tops in the league.

The other thing to remember is that Yandle was probably matched up against the opposing team’s best line. That will not often be the case with the Rangers.

Yandle’s acquisition does show that Sather swung and missed with his signing of Dan Boyle. Whether it was his early season health problems and broken hand, Boyle has not given the Rangers the kind of play they were looking for – especially on the power play. They expected him to struggle in the defensive end, but not as much as he has offensively.

If Sather is going to address his cadre of UFAs and RFAs he might have to look to trade Boyle during the summer. He could probably swap Boyle for another veteran UFA-to-be blueliner who is making similar money ($4.5 million), but that doesn’t help the Rangers achieve salary cap space.

It is possible Sather can move Boyle in a salary dump, but that is going to require the team to include prospects and/or draft picks as an enticement.

That is the case in the Yandle deal. Yes, losing Anthony Duclair and the conditional 2016 first round draft pick is a hefty price for a team whose next first round draft pick will most likely be made by a GM not named Sather, but it was a necessary evil in order to get Arizona to retain half of his salary cap hit for the remaining year and change on Yandle’s contract. Heck, if next season turns out to be a disaster, Yandle will become a very hot bargaining chip with a cap hit of about $2.6 million.

Sheppard’s acquisition really came out of nowhere – a lot like Yandle’s when you really think about it. The Rangers were linked to the likes of Antoine Vermette, Mike Santorelli and Tyler Bozak.

While Sheppard was playing on San Jose’s third line, you can expect that he will start out on the fourth line given the success the Carl Hagelin-J.T. Miller-Kevin Hayes line has been having. Sheppard can play any of the forward positions and has won 50% of his faceoffs this year.

Originally drafted 9th overall by Minnesota in 2006, Sheppard is now on his third NHL team. While has proven to be better than expected defensively, he has been a disappointment offensively (he is more of playmaker than goal scorer) and he needs to use his size (6-1/215) more than he does. You figure he will be highly motivated because he is an UFA at the end of the season.

International Scouting Service rated him as their 7th best prospect in the 2006 NHL Draft and compared his style of play to Joe Thornton. The praised his poise, leadership and overall hockey sense but cautioned his skating needed work.

Looking to next year, Klingberg and Summers could serve as cheap members of the “Black Aces”. Klingberg is a RFA with a relatively low cap hit this year ($650,000) while Summers has one more year on a deal that carries a $600,000 cap hit.

Klingberg was a 2nd round pick (#34) in 2009 of the then Atlanta Thrashers. ISS rated him as their 32nd best prospect and praised him for his size, physical play and his shot. They characterized him as a playmaking power forward whose style of play compared to that of Ryan Getzlaf. ISS also listed him second only to Zack Kassian among prospects in the “Tough as Nails” category. The 6-3/205 can play either wing.

Summers was drafted in the 4th round (#105) in 2005 by the Coyotes. ISS rated the center/defenseman as their 70th best prospect. While playing forward and defense as part of the U.S. National Development Team, ISS projected 6-2/209 blueliner as an offensive d-man who needed to work on his defensive zone coverage.

Scouting reports (from The Hockey News) on the four newest Rangers can be found at the end of this article.

In addition to all of the scouting the Rangers did in reference to the four newcomers, the Blueshirts have additional connections to three of the four players. Ulf Samuelsson was Yandle’s coach with the Coyotes from 2006 through 2011 and Ulf also worked with Summers while they were in Phoenix.

One additional connection the Rangers have to the two former Coyotes is that Rangers consultant Mike Barnett was the GM who drafted both players for the Coyotes.

The team has another connection with Summers who was a teammate of Carl Hagelin at the University of Michigan from 2007/08 through 2009/10.

Doug Risebrough, currently a consultant to GM Glen Sather, was the GM of the Wild when Sheppard was drafted in the first round by Minnesota.

With the Rangers trading away so many draft picks, the team will have to be even more aggressive when it comes to undrafted free agency. There is additional pressure on the Blueshirts scouts to find the next Kevin Hayes in collegiate hockey, the next Dan Girardi in Major Juniors and the next Mats Zuccarello in Europe.

Sather pointed to Hayes’ development as one of the reasons why he believed he could include Duclair in the Yandle trade.

When all is said and done, in terms of the moves made at the 2015 Trade Deadline, I will say now what I said in 1994 – the Rangers had better win the Stanley Cup.

CARL KLINGBERG (RW)
Assets: Oozes a power forward mentality and some sound scoring acumen. Has good size and work ethic. Is adept at playing sound defensively from either wing position.
Flaws: While he has scoring ability, the jury is still out on his long-range upside as a point producer at the highest level. Also needs to bring more consistency to his game.
Career Potential: Big depth winger with a little upside.

CHRIS SUMMERS (D)
Assets: Displays shutdown ability and has a good frame for the blueline position in the NHL. Is at his best when he keeps the game safe and simple.
Flaws: Doesn’t have high-end offensive talent, so he needs to continue adding more strength to better handle his defensive responsibilities.
Career Potential: Depth defensive defenseman.

JAMES SHEPPARD (F)
Assets: Has good size and reach. Can line up either at center or wing. Displays the ability to excel in all three zones and provide leadership at lower levels.
Flaws: Injuries have stunted his NHL development. Is woefully inconsistent in the offensive zone and can take shifts off. Doesn’t use his 6-1 frame enough.
Career Potential: Versatile forward with a little upside, when healthy.

KEITH YANDLE (D)
Assets: Has explosive skating ability, superior offensive instincts, great puckhandling skills and a lethal one-timer. Is very adept at playing the point on the power play. Competes hard, initiates attacks and is everywhere on the ice.
Flaws: Needs to continue adding more bulk, since he can struggle when opposed to the NHL’s biggest forwards. Must tighten up his play without the puck and avoid some occasional bad decisions when he has it (and is pressured).
Career Potential: Excellent offensive defenseman with great mobility.

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Prior to Henrik Lundqvist’s injury, GM Glen Sather needed to be a magician in terms of making a deadline deal given the New York Rangers scarcity of cap space. With Lundqvist out and the Rangers having to factor rookie Mackenzie Skapski’s salary into the cap equation, Sather is going to have to channel his inner Houdini if he wants to make any significant changes by 3pm on March 2.

In an ideal world, Sather would add a third–pair defenseman to team with Dan Boyle, a third line center who is strong on faceoffs and some additional depth among his bottom six forwards.

Since Sather does not operate in a perfect world, at best he might have to settle for a depth defenseman and a depth forward.

Of course, there is the 800-pound gorilla that is looming large as the deadline approaches – will Sather need to make a trade for a veteran goaltender?

While Skapski did win his NHL debut, it would be a lot to ask him to play a few games down the stretch against much tougher competition. Some fans point to Montreal’s Carey Price as example of a 20-year-old steeping into the NHL. The point they forget to make is that Price was a first round draft pick (5th overall) while Skapski was a sixth round draft pick (170th overall).

Just as it would be a lot to ask Skapski to step up, it would be tough to ask Cam Talbot to continue to shoulder the vast majority of games without a veteran backup. There is going to come a time when the Rangers offense is not going to be able to continually bail out the defense and Talbot.

Even if Lundqvist is medically cleared in the next week or two, he is going to need another week or two to get back into game shape. Taking it a step further, having a veteran third string goaltender would prevent a repeat of last year when David LeNeveu was The King’s backup in the Stanley Cup Finals.

You also have to wonder how confident the Rangers are that Lundqvist can stay healthy. Granted losing Lundqvist for the playoffs would be a devastating blow, having a veteran backup would give the team a puncher’s chance in the playoffs.

There are three veteran goaltenders who are playing in the AHL and would fit the bill of a veteran backup. Peter Budaj and Dan Ellis both have NHL experience, but are currently third on their team’s depth charts.

However, Chicago’s Michael Leighton is fourth on the Blackhawks depth chart. Leighton is a veteran of 105 NHL games. His last significant stretch of time in the NHL was during the 2009/10 season when he went 17-9-1 with a 2.83 GAA and a .905 SV% with Philadelphia and Carolina.

Since he is fourth on the depth chart, he should not cost that much in terms of acquiring him and in terms of cap hit (his salary is $550,000).

It is the lack of cap space that is the Rangers most daunting task. Cap Space is at such premium the team decided to carry only 12 forwards during Jesper Fast’s injury rather than call up a forward and further deplete its limited cap space.

When they did call up Oscar Lindberg to replace Rick Nash against Calgary they immediately returned the rookie center rather than eat up any additional cap space.

The lack of salary cap space is not the Rangers only concern come the trade deadline. With the 2015 Draft expected to be strong and deep, teams are looking to stockpile draft picks. The Rangers are hampered because their 2015 Draft cupboard is nowhere near being fully stocked.

The Blueshirts have two second round picks (their own and Tampa Bay’s) and draft picks in the third, fourth and sixth rounds. In addition, there is little to no chance that the Rangers will part with the likes of Pavel Buchnevich, Anthony Duclair or Brady Skjei – especially for a rental. The organization would have to literally be blown away to include one their prized prospects in a deal.

With limited cap space and limited resources, the Rangers will have to be very creative as the trade deadline nears. If they want a more experienced backup to Talbot they could recall Yann Danis from Hartford. Danis is a journeyman goaltender who played 43 of his 53 NHL games with the Islanders and Devils during the 2008/09 and 2009/10 seasons.

There is one problem with Danis and it is the reason he is not backing up Talbot at this very moment. Danis is signed to a Player Tryout (PTO) contract with Hartford. In order to play for the Rangers the team would have to sign him to an NHL contract and add him to their 50-man reserve list. Currently, the list stands at 48 and would limit the Blueshirts ability to add multiple players unless they traded a player who is on their reserve list.

With the Rangers have to face the prospect of re-signing a myriad of restricted and unrestricted free agents, the team is not going to make a trade for as player who has multiple years on his contract. In other words, fans who had hoped to see the likes of a Martin Hanzal or Evander Kane in a Rangers uniform were dreaming. The Rangers are shopping in the aisle of UFAs to be – unless someone is willing to take on a Dan Boyle while giving the Rangers and upgrade on defense.

Of course, there is a long shot way of trading for a player with multiple years remaining on his contract. You would have to find a team that is willing to retain part of the player’s cap hit on their books – much like Toronto did when they dealt Daniel Winnik to Pittsburgh. The problem with this scenario is that the Rangers would have to offer a mighty big enticement to get a team to keep a multiple year cap hit – and that brings us back to the Rangers lacking a first round draft pick and being unwilling to trade their elite prospects.

In other words, don’t hold your breath.

With the Rangers options limited – both in terms of cap space and trade ammunition – the Blueshirts might only be able to fill one of their non-goaltending needs. It is a matter of deciding what gives the Rangers their biggest bang for their buck.

Do they take a look at Columbus’ Mark Letestu in an attempt to bring in a center who wins 53% of his faceoffs or do they go against conventional wisdom and strengthen their defense by bringing in someone like Jeff Petry?

Elliotte Friedman of Sportsnet.ca writes that Patrick Kane’s shoulder/collarbone injury puts Chicago GM Stan Bowman in a position where he can place his star on LTIR and use the cap savings to chase down the likes of Antoine Vermette. Reports state that Kane will be out 12 weeks after having his fractured left clavicle repaired.

Friedman also chimed in on the Mats Zuccarello situation in his latest “30 Thoughts” column when he said, “The simple move for New York is to keep him, make a playoff run and take their chances later. But, there are rumours they will consider trading him, see what they can get and, if necessary, flip that for something else. I can’t prove or disprove those rumblings, but they’re out there.

The problem with moving Zuccarello is that his status as an UFA means you are not going to get full value for him. The Rangers would have to include a pretty good prospect in any deal if they want to bring back a player of equal value.

That is what the Rangers did last year when Sather sent the two first round draft picks to Tampa Bay. Of course, Slats could have, and should have, bargained harder because Lightning GM Steve Yzerman was between a rock and a hard place because Marty St. Louis has his eyes set on Broadway and the Blueshirts.

When you factor in the Rangers lack of cap space and what teams have been asking/trading for, Sather is going to have be a miracle worker at the deadline if he is going to make a meaningful trade.

The idea that the Rangers are in on Toronto center Tyler Bozak doesn’t make sense given his $4.2 million cap hit over the next three years. Even if the Maple Leafs agreed to retain part of Bozak’s salary (like they did with sending Daniel Winnik to Pittsburgh), the Blueshirts would still be hard pressed to find enough of an enticement to get Toronto to retain part of the cap hit.

Bozak’s style of play would be suited to a third line center with the Rangers. He is strong at both ends of the ice and is solid on faceoffs. The problem is that his contract is far too prohibitive for a team who has so many UFAs and RFAs and so little cap space.

The best Rangers fans can probably expect is Sather to make one or two smaller depth-type deals. It is far more likely to see Slats bring in a Raphael Diaz than a Martin St. Louis. Sather can make those type of deals and still keep the Rangers in good cap shape moving forward – all while trading away fringe-type prospects.

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With the New York Rangers and Anthony Duclair head to Pittsburgh for their Saturday night rematch, everyone is wondering if Coach Alain Vigneault to make it a hat trick of scratches for The Duke. A Rangers win over the Colorado avalanche would have probably sealed The Duke’s fate; however, a shootout loss and a less-than-impressive showing from Jesper Fast might get the 19-year-old back into the lineup.

Fast is a nice player, but he is your Garden variety fourth line checking winger while Duclair has all the tools and talent to be a top six forward – or better.

The Rangers can’t afford to let Duclair sit out too many games in a row. They can get away with giving him fourth line minutes because they have been giving him ice time on the power play. The problem is if the Rangers send him back to his Junior team he will not be eligible to return until after the Quebec Remparts season is over. Since Quebec is hoisting the 2015 Memorial Cup, that means Duclair might not be eligible to return until June because the Memorial Cup runs through May 31.

Since he has Junior eligibility, Duclair can’t be sent to the AHL unless he suffered an injury and was being assigned for a two-week conditioning stint. The NHL is a tough not to crack in terms of sending Junior-eligible players to the minors for a conditioning stint.

The Buffalo Sabres tried to do that last year with Mikhail Grigorenko and were rebuffed as the NHL invoked Article 13.8 of the CBA which says the NHL “may take whatever steps he deems necessary to investigate the circumstances under which a Player is loaned on a Conditioning Loan.”

The one thing the Rangers can do is loan Duclair to the Canadian National Junior team making him eligible for the 2015 IIHF World Junior Championship which is being held in Toronto and Montreal. During the Summer of 2014, Duclair was one of 41 Canadians invited to the Canadian Junior team’s development camp.

The Championship runs from December 26, 2014 through January 5, 2015. Canada does not have to submit their roster until Christmas Day and they are expected to use every minute after 2015 NHL Draft phenom Connor McDavid broke a bone in his hand during a fight and is expected to miss five-to-six weeks.

The Canadians will be gathering for a brief training camp on December 11 with two exhibition games on the 13th and 14th. If Duclair is invited to the training camp and makes the team, his last game with the Rangers would be December 8 against the Penguins.

If you pencil in Canada for the Finals, the Rangers would be on the West Coast for a three-game/four-day trip against the California teams. Rather than making Duclair fly across country, he could wait for the Blueshirts to return to the Garden for a January 13 game against the Islanders. All totaled, Duclair could miss 13 Rangers games.

As you can see, it is a bit of a Catch-22 situation. You don’t want to lose his availability for that length of time in case of injuries to your other forwards, but he would get to experience a highly competitive level of hockey against players of his own age with the added pressure of playing the games in his home country.

One of the reasons the Rangers were leaning towards returning him to the Remparts was to experience the pomp and circumstance and pressure of the Memorial Cup.

By keeping him in New York and making him available for the World Junior Championship, Duclair get to experience the best of both worlds. He gets the experience of playing in the NHL and he gets the opportunity to represent his country on the international stage. Best of all, he would remain NHL playoff eligible from Day One of the Stanley Cup playoffs.

The one question left unanswered is can Duclair withstand the rigors of the NHL at his size (5-11/180). The one plus to his staying with the Rangers is that the team should be working with The Duke on his strength and conditioning.

It is not my intention to run down the Remparts training staff, but it is logical to presume that an NHL team’s training staff is better equipped to monitor and improve a player’s strength and conditioning than a QMJHL team.

In addition to strength and conditioning, there are still aspects to Duclair’s game that need to be developed.

“In my mind, there is a skill set there in a young player that I haven’t seen in a long time,” AV said to Brett Cyrgalis of the NY Post. “Sometimes, for a guy like that, playing every night is not the right thing to do.”

“It gives him an opportunity to practice, work with the coaches,” Vigneault said. “It’s a long season. He might not play [Thursday], just day-to-day. But he’s still part of this team right now.”

The key is for the Rangers to place Duclair in the best positions to succeed. If that means remaining with the Rangers, then AV and his coaching staff have to be in constant contact with Duclair and keeping in the loop in terms of what the coaching staff wants from the youngster. It does not hurt to have a veteran like Martin St. Louis to lean on in terms of keeping an eye on the youngster.

In a perfect world, the Rangers would be able to assign Duclair to the AHL where he could play top line minutes and be available to return to the NHL when needed.

Larry Brooks nailed the crux of the NHL-CHL problem when he called the current system an “anachronism”. There is no such agreement in place between the NHL and colleges, high schools and European teams – only the CHL. The same CHL which Brooks says receives anywhere from $10.2 million to $12.6 million (figures are in Canadian dollars) annually.

No one wants the NHL to start pumping Canadian Juniors dry, but perhaps it is time for the NHL and Canadian Hockey League to get together and find some type of compromise that meets the needs of the CHL and meets the needs of the players.

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Who would have thought that replacing Brad Richards and Brian Boyle would present such a difficult decision for Coach Alain Vigneault? Granted, no one anticipated Derek Stepan being out four-to-six weeks with a fractured left fibula.

In reality, when you think about it, the Rangers dodged a huge bullet in terms of Stepan’s injury when you compare it to the fate suffered by Jordan Staal. The Carolina Hurricane is expected to be out three-to-four months after undergoing surgery to repair his broken fibula.

With Stepan missing the first 10 or so games (more on that later), the center ice decision shifted from finding a third/fourth line center to finding a first/second line center to supplement Derick Brassard.

This situation is one of the few times that being cap-strapped is a plus for the Rangers. President/GM Glen Sather can’t sign any of the mediocre free agents left on the market nor can he make a trade for an over-the-hill center.

The center ice battle has been further hindered by some unfortunate circumstances during the last week or so. Veteran Matthew Lombardi has been hampered with a groin injury and it is uncertain how that will play into his ability to make the team and contribute at the start of the season.

It bears mentioning that Lombardi, unlike the other veteran forwards signed during the summer, has a two-year contract – as opposed to just a one-year deal.

J.T. Miller’s inconsistent play has not helped his cause with Vigneault. While the Blueshirts could get away with an inconsistent Miller as a third or fourth line center, they can’t afford that kind of play if he has to anchor the second line.

After putting on a show in Chicago, rookie Oscar Lindberg’s play has come down to earth and it seems as if he is destined to return to Hartford – which isn’t the worst thing in the world for him.

What the Stepan/Lombardi injuries and the Miller/Lindberg inconsistent play have done is force the organization to look outside the box in terms of filling out four lines.

The injuries (Ryan Malone’s hip flexor included) have allowed longshot Anthony Duclair to have a legitimate shot at making the Rangers Opening Night lineup. The Duke might not have an NHL body at the tender age of 19 (5-11 and listed at 185 pounds on the team’s web site, but probably closer to 175 in real life), but Duclair has shown to have NHL ready skills – scoring a goal in each of his first three pre-season games.

Duclair’s situation is different than most Junior-eligible players because he will have two years left on his entry-level contract whether he plays Juniors or in the NHL. As a result, the team can keep him for longer than the standard nine games before deciding to return him to his Junior team or starting his NHL clock.

However, the Rangers are at their 50-contract limit so they would have to make a trade to open up a spot for Duclair. While every article mentions this, it should not be that difficult to find a player to trade – especially if you make it for the ever-popular “future considerations”.

Kevin Hayes is another player who is getting an extended look as a result of the injuries. The Rangers have been known as an organization that would rather give their prospects ice time in Hartford as opposed to having them step right into the NHL. That might not be the case because of the team’s need at center in terms of numbers and size.

While the Blueshirts dreamed of Hayes being able to play center, they wanted to take a look at him on the wing in order to see how they could best utilize him this season. However, necessity wins out as Hayes is in the mix at center.

Rookie Ryan Haggerty is another player making the best of his opportunity in his first Training Camp. After a subpar first pre-season game, Haggerty has shown the kind of speed and hands that make him a solid NHL prospect. However, the numbers game will probably cost Haggerty a chance to start the season in the NHL.

Jesper Fast has opened eyes with solid play and has become a player to watch. One thing in his favor is that Vigneault likes his style of play and feels comfortable with his ability to take care of his defensive responsibilities.

An intriguing candidate at center is AHL veteran Chris Mueller. Originally thought of as a depth player for the Wolf Pack, Mueller has two qualities going for him that the other candidates at center don’t have. He has proven to be a PP scorer in the past (16 goals in the AHL last year and 11 two years ago). Most importantly, with Stepan out of the lineup, Mueller would be the only right-handed shot at center.

In terms of replacing Stepan as the second line center, two veterans might be in the mix – one expected and one a surprise.

Dominic Moore filled in admirably last year during the playoffs when injuries struck. While it would be too much to ask for Moore to play second line minutes for 82 games, he might be able to give the Rangers the 10 or so games they would need with Stepan out of the lineup. Even if the team goes another route, you would expect Moore to see extra ice time late in third period if the Rangers are protecting a lead – especially if he were spelling a youngster like Hayes.

The unexpected alternative is Martin St. Louis. The veteran RW already volunteered to play center and Vigneault had him centering one of the two PP units at practice on Wednesday morning. His linemates on the PP were Duclair and Rick Nash – definitely an intriguing trio.

Factoring in Stepan’s absence, Lombardi and Malone’s injury problems, Lindberg and Miller’s inability to seize the day, and Hayes’ lack of NHL experience and time at center, perhaps the Rangers best course of action is to play St. Louis at center – at least during Stepan’s injury.

It gives the Rangers an opportunity/excuse to take a longer look at Duclair. If the youngster is struggling then they can send him back to his Junior team when Stepan returns to the lineup without much fanfare. If the Duke continues to show he belongs in the NHL then the Rangers will have a pleasant abundance of talent when Stepan returns to the lineup.

That would give the Rangers two strong scoring lines: Chris Kreider-Derick Brassard-Mats Zuccarello and Anthony Duclair-Martin St. Louis-Rick Nash. Vigneault then could use the rest of the forwards to mix and match a third and fourth line.

You have to figure that Carl Hagelin plays on the third line with either Dominic Moore or J.T. Miller at center and Taylor Glass plays LW on the fourth line. It is a matter of deciding where Jesper Fast, Ryan Malone and Lee Stempniak fit in – with Matthew Lombardi starting the season on the Injured Reserve list.

In some respect, the start to this season will mirror the start to last season in terms of the Rangers not have a settled lineup for the first month or two of the season.

Last year it was a result of AV learning his new team and navigating his way through a nine-game road trip to start the season.

This year it is a result of injuries to some players, replacing other players, and, more importantly, having enough talent that lends itself to competition in Training Camp.

Lost in all of the talk about the Rangers options at center is the battle for the seventh defenseman. It was expected that the battle would come down to veterans Matt Hunwick, Steven Kampfer and Michael Kostka with Conor Allen and Dylan McIlrath being sent to Hartford to get playing time.

Those plans have been hampered by the inability of one of the three veterans to seize the opportunity. Adding additional intrigue was Allen’s assignment to Hartford as McIlrath remains.

Frankly, I don’t think it makes sense for McIlrath to sit in New York as the seventh blueliner. He needs to play; not only in terms of his development, but in terms of showing that he can stay healthy and be productive over a full season.

While the remaining veterans don’t exactly remind anyone of Brian Leetch, Hunwick’s experience should probably win out in the long run – although Kostka’s size (6-1/210) is intriguing. Ultimately, the decision might come down to which defenseman can best play his off-wing: can right-handed Kostka (or Kampfer) play the left side and can left-handed shot Hunwick play the right side?

Given the strength of the Rangers six regular d-men, the spare is not going to get that much ice time. Hunwick is fine as a replacement for a game or two but if the Blueshirts suffered a long-term injury, I would expect Allen or McIlrath to get recalled.

The other thing I expect is that Sather will be active at the trade deadline looking for a better option as the spare defenseman as the Rangers look ahead to the playoffs.

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Who would have expected the final piece of the New York Rangers “2014 NHL Draft” puzzle to be added late in August – almost a month prior to the start of Training Camp? That is the case with the Rangers being the winners of the Kevin Hayes Sweepstakes. By signing the former 2010 Chicago Blackhawks 1st round pick (24th overall), President/GM Glen Sather helps ease the loss of the team’s 2014 1st and 2nd round picks as part of the Martin St. Louis/Ryan Callahan trade.

While Brian Costello of The Hockey News wrote in an August 20, 2014 online article that Hayes would have been a 2nd round pick if the 2010 NHL Draft were re-drafted today, there is no doubt that Hayes would have been worth a 1st round pick this year given his stature (6-5/225) and his breakout season (40-27-38-65) as Senior for Boston College.

The best part about Hayes signing with the Rangers is that the playing field was level for all 29 teams once Hayes declined to sign with the Blackhawks. While technically an Unrestricted Free Agent, Hayes falls under the entry-level contract terms that all rookies face under the current CBA. Hayes’ signing with the Rangers has more to do with his perception of his ability to make the team than it does with the deep pockets of James Dolan.

Even better than the Rangers winning a fair contract fight is the fact the 2nd round compensatory pick Chicago gets (54th overall) comes from the NHL – not the Rangers.

Some will point to Hayes’ breakout season being keyed by his linemates Johnny Gaudreau and Bill Arnold. While that might be possible, that puts Hayes in a golden position to shine in the NHL if he is teamed with the Rangers version of Gaudreau – Mats Zuccarello. Heck, Hayes’ ability to play center might position him for a chance to be teamed with St. Louis.

New York Rangers President/GM Glen Sather did his best to liven up the 2014 NHL Entry Draft. It started in March when he dealt away his 2014 1st round pick to Tampa Bay as part of the blockbuster deal for Martin St. Louis. Slats kept the puck sliding as he traded Derek Dorsett to Vancouver for a 3rd round draft pick (#85) and continued into Saturday when he made a couple of more deals that saw the Rangers increase their number of picks from five to seven.

With a Vancouver’s 3rd round pick in his pocket, Sather traded the Rangers 3rd round pick (#89) to Washington for a pair of 4th round selections (#104 and #118).

The trade with the Capitals allowed Sather to move his own 4th round pick (#119) to his buddy Steve Yzerman in exchange for two Lightning 5th round picks (#140 and #142).

Sather’s trade machinations set the Rangers up for a balanced draft that saw the team draft a pair of goaltenders and forwards and three defensemen. Here is a look at each of the newest Rangers draftees.

Second Round – Brandon Halverson (#59)

The 6-4/176 Halverson was the 6th rated goaltender by both Central Scouting (CS) (among North American Goalies) and International Scouting Service (ISS). The Hockey News (THN) did not have him rated among their Top 100 players. As for his NHL Potential, ISS believes “Halvorson will have a chance to see NHL time based on his upside and size.”

The 18-year-old native of Traverse City, MI saw limited action with Sault Ste. Marie (PHL) last season – appearing in 19 games (12-6-1, 2.96 GAA and .904 SV%).
ISS Scouting Report: “Halverson is a big goaltender who did not see a lot of action this season backing up Pittsburgh draft pick Matt Murray. However, he shows good upside for the next level. Halverson’s athleticism and stick handling ability with the puck separate him from most of his peers. Although he will need to learn when and when not to make plats with the puck, his natural ability is top notch.”

Mike MacFarlane, ISS Head Ontario Scout, wrote: “He is a good size kid who moves well in the net, has a real physical presence. Showed a good glove, good focus, got a little fancy a couple of times moving the puck, but that is coachable. I like this kid, good lateral, squares well and controls rebounds, doesn’t give shooter much. Didn’t play much last year but will be number 1 next year, has the potential to play in the show.”

Phil Myre, ISS Head U.S. Scout, wrote: “Very good size goalie. Has excellent focus and competitiveness. Plays angles very well, controls rebounds well. Good technique. Patient in the net. Excellent prospect for the NHL. Possibly #1 or 1A.”

Third Round – Keegan Iverson (#85)

The 6-0/219 RW was rated the 85th best prospect by ISS, the 85th best North American skater by CS and was the 90th best player rated by THN who called Iverson “a competitive power forward [who] hits clean, but hard.” ISS sees his NHL potential as a “3rd line grinder who will send opposition coaches into fits with his ability to pummel opponents.”

The St. Louis Park, MN native spent last season with Portland (WHL) and posted career highs in games, goals, assists and points (67-22-20-42). Iverson, who turns 18 in August, has represented the USA at various U-17 and U-18 tournaments.

ISS Scouting Report: “What you see is what you get with Iverson, he’s a no frills in your face type of player who plays a smash mouth style and can beat opponents into submission. He is not flashy, doesn’t possess a ton of creative skill around the puck, but he can bump and pound his way all over the ice, including to and directly in front of the net which makes him a real difficult player to prepare for and contain. He wins battles consistently and while not overly quick or elusive, he’s a freight train at times and it’s not easy to dent him the space he wants to get.”

Ross MacLean, ISS Head Western Scout, wrote: “He’s the type of player who doesn’t take no for an answer. He leaves it all out there and he will go at anybody who stands in his way.”

Phil Bohenblust, ISS Regional European Scout, wrote: “Gritty two-way winger. Skates well, very strong balance. A hard forechecker in the corners that can create room for his teammates. Plays defensively reliable. Didn’t show much offensively, missed creativity.”

Fourth Round – Ryan Mantha (#104)

The nearly 6-foot-5 and 225-pound Mantha was rated the 149th best North American skater by CS and was #59 on the ISS List who compared his style of play to that of Simon Despres. ISS sees his NHL potential as that of a “depth defender who can kill penalties.”

Mantha, a right-handed shot, turned 18 about a week before the Draft, had a verbal agreement to play at the University of North Dakota – who is deep in defenseman. As a result, Mantha decided to pass on college and signed with OHL’s Niagara IceDogs.

“He’s an NHL draft pick, he’s very focused on his career and he wants to get a contract and be a pro,” his new GM/Coach Marty Williamson explained to Bernie Puchalski of Niagara Advance.ca. “The timing is very good for us, adding a piece like that when we feel our team is ready to blossom.”

Given what Mantha told Neate Sager Yahoo Sports, the Rangers will have a big say where the youngster plays in 2014/2015.
“I think they’re [his NHL team] going to decide,” The Clarkstown, MI native explained to Sager. “Some teams say they won’t but I think if someone has input on what is best for me, I’ll really consider it.”

Mantha’s decision to forego collegiate hockey mirrors the decision 2011, Rangers 1st round draft pick J.T. Miller made. Miller verbally committed to North Dakota before shifting gears and heading to Plymouth (OHL).

The big d-man is the first of two Rangers draft picks that have an NHL legacy in their background. His uncle Moe Mantha Jr. played in 656 NHL games, his dad (Bob) played in Major Juniors and his grandfather (Moe Sr.) played minor hockey.

ISS Scouting Report: “Long, lean, towering defenseman with great size and reach. Extremely difficult to beat in one-on-one situations and is a tremendous asset on the penalty kill due to his long reach and shot-blocking abilities. He skates well for a big man; however, lacks mobility and top speed. Not an effective puck-handler due to less than ideal hands. Will never be mistaken for an offensive producer due to his limitations instinctively. Still needs to continue adding mass to his tremendous frame and get stronger.”

Myre wrote: “Excellent size defenseman – right shot defenseman. Average skater and average puck skills. Makes a good first pass. Needs to improve foot speed and overall skill sets.

Jan Has, ISS Regional U.S. Scout, wrote: “The overall defensive game and the coverage of his space was satisfying; however, his intense involvement was not to the level as should be expected from a high NHL draft prospect.”

Fourth Round – Igor Shesterkin (#118)

The 6-1/185 goaltender was the second goaltender the Rangers selected – and I have also seen his last name spelled Shestyorkin. The 18-year-old netminder was rated as CS’s 7th best European goaltender and was not among the 200 or so players rated by ISS. The one scouting service that was very high on Shesterkin was Red Line Report (RLR).

Kyle Woodlief, who runs RLR, has Shesterkin rated as the second best goaltending prospect behind only Mason McDonald. RLR had Shesterkin listed as a possible 2nrd round draft pick.

In a June 18, 2014 article for USA Today Woodlief wrote, “Next up for Red Line is Igor Shestyorkin, a super-competitive kid who never gives up on a play. The cat-like acrobat shows phenomenal reflexes and anticipation, and almost never gets beaten by anything clean – it has to be a rebound, deflection, or screen shot. He needs plenty of work on his technique, but his focus and concentration are outstanding. The biggest downside is clubs not being certain of his future intentions – he has indicated a willingness to come to North America once his Kontinental Hockey League contract is done, but his availability is not a given.”

Shesterkin split time in the KHL (9 games-2.80 GAA-.903 SV%) and in Russia’s Junior League (MHL). In 23 MHL games, he posted a 14-5-4 record with a 1.42 GAA and a .947 SV%. He had a stellar playoffs helping MHK Spartak win the championship with a 12-7 record with a 1.75 GAA and a .937 SV%.

Director of Player Personnel Gordie Clark spoke about the team’s draft on the Rangers official web site. SNY’s Adam Rotter offered this version of Clark’s take on the two newest goalies in the Rangers system.

“We went in looking for a goalie. We have been looking the last 3-4 drafts and there [hasn’t] been a lot of what we would call number one prospects. This was the year we thought that there were 4 or 5 and we took Halverson and we liked him where he was sitting at the end of the second round. Then Shestyorkin, two years ago at the under 18, as an underage, was outstanding, and he had a great year in the league and my Russian guy followed him a lot. We went in and looked at him a lot – we think that he is a number one prospect. By the time we picked him, we [looked] at who [was] left and there are some guys that you want to try but none were considered impact players at defense of forward – and this guy we had listed as a number one goalie. I didn’t go in looking for two, but he was still sitting there and sometimes we take the best player available and Shestyorkin was there.”

Fifth Round – Richard Nejezchleb (#122)

I don’t know how to pronounce the name and I am working on spelling it, but the name Richard Nejezchleb was known to me before the Draft because Jess Rubenstein of “Prospect Park” and “Blueshirt Bulletin” touted him as a player he liked for the Rangers.

Considering he was rated the 50th best North American skater by CS and the 84th best overall prospect by ISS, the Rangers got a great value pick at #122. ISS sees his NHL potential as being a player who “provides good organizational scoring depth. Can fill in when needed and contribute.”

In Nejezchleb’s case, the third time was the charm as 2014 represented his third year of draft eligibility. In 2012, his first year of eligibility, Nejezchleb was rated as the 41st European skater.

Because of his age (20) and gritty style of play, Clark believes that Nejezchleb could be the first of Class of 2014 to turn pro.

While the 6-2/210 RW was born in Prague, Czech Republic, he is no stranger to North American hockey having played the last two seasons with Brandon (WHL). Last year he set career highs in games, goals, assists and points (66-32-25-57), before adding five goals and four assists in nine playoff games.

ISS Scouting Report: “Nejezchleb has already passed through two drafts and seemed to be looking to add enough to his game to try and avoid a third time. He’s a big body with good offensive skills and this year he added some much improved fire and desire. He has a good reach which he has really learned to use properly around the net and has added more intensity on his net drives and overall presence. Nejezchleb was significantly more physical on a consistent basis this year than previous years and proved to be an impactful goal scoring forward night in and night out for the Wheat Kings. Needs to keep his feet moving as he tends to stand still or glide at times.”

MacLean wrote: “He has come a long way and has shown that he is willing to pay the price to score ugly goals, something he wasn’t prepared to do before now.”

Andruw Yarema, ISS Regional Western Scout, wrote: “Really elevated his game for the playoffs. Battled hard along the boards. Used size and strength to create room in front of the net,”

Fifth Round – Daniel Walcott (#140)

The 5-11/170 blueliner was first eligible for the NHL Draft in 2012. The Rangers see him as an offensive defenseman who spends the season as an overage defenseman in the QMJHL with Blainville-Boisbriand. Last season he scored 10 goals and 29 assists in 67 games as a rare 19-year-old rookie in Junior hockey.

Walcott’s late start to Junior hockey came as result of spending 2012/2013 season playing collegiate hockey for Lindenwood University – which plays in the American College Hockey Association Division 1. The ACHA is the governing body of non-varsity college hockey in the USA.

Coached by former NHL d-man Rick Zombo, Walcott, one of the youngest players in the ACHA, scored four goals and nine assists in 33 games as Lindenwood reached the ACHA Finals only to lose to Minot State.

Prior to the Draft, McKeen’s hockey scout Rick Springhetti reviewed the Top 20 draft QMJHL prospects and listed Walcott at #14. Here is what he said about Walcott via MontrealHockeyTalk.com: “Overage player was an unknown at the start of the season but his mix of offence, defense and quickness has made him one of the Q’s better defensemen this season.” Central Scouting ranked him 160th among North American skaters in their Mid-Term rankings.

While speaking with Sunaya Sapurji of Buzzing the Net (for Yahoo Canada) Walcott describes his style of play. “I’m a two-way defenceman. I bring a lot of offence and I can play defence too and shutdown top lines. I can be in-your-face and physical. I give my heart out every game – a lot of character.”

The Canadian web site Future Considerations lists the following talking point on Walcott:

• Strong, two-way presence and was “dominating” in his rookie season in the QMJHL
• Skates well and can generate a lot of speed going forward and backward
• Strong in transition and can skate with the fastest skaters in the Q
• Plays a shutdown, aggressive “in-your-face defensive game.”
• “Is physical and willing to give a beating if needed. Uses his frame to separate the puck off attackers and to clear the danger zones around his net. Has strong leadership qualities both on and off the ice. Lacks a little in the size for the style and temperament he plays.”
• Walcott is a minute muncher who contributes offensively with a strong first pass and the support of his forwards. Poised with the puck under pressure and displays impressive vision
• His NHL potential is to be a two-way defenseman.

Fifth Round – Tyler Nanne (#142)

The 5-10/174 Nanne carries an impressive NHL and sports pedigree. His grandfather Lou Nanne is a member of the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame and was a 1980 Lester Patrick award winner for his work in hockey in the USA. Tyler’s brother Louie was drafted 188th overall in 2012 by Minnesota and spent last season with Sioux Falls of the USHL. Their uncle, Tino Lettieri, represented Canada i4 international soccer games and was a goalkeeper in the old NASL and MISL.

Nanne, who can play forward as well as defense, broke many hearts in Minnesota when he committed to play at Ohio State starting in 2015. He is expected to play this season for Sioux Falls.

In 27 games with Edina High School, Nanne scored seven goals and 20 assists. His five goals led his team in the playoffs and 11 points (in 11 games) was tied for second on the team.

Nanne was ranked eight spots behind (#168) his eventual Rangers teammate Daniel Walcott in Central Scouting’s Mid-Term rankings before settling as the 188th ranked North American skater in the final report.

Here are Future Considerations talking points on Nanne:

• Mobile, puck moving defenseman who is “ultra confident” with the puck.
• Not afraid to join the rush and very creative with the puck
• Smoot skater and can go end to end quickly
• Hard shot from the point but could be more accurate
• Sound positionally defensively but still has a long way to go.
• “The one thing that is very impressive is his smarts and ability to make the simple play to avoid trouble. He does not panic when there is a hard forecheck applied. He has solid upside and raw potential, but it will certainly help if he grows a little bit more.”
• Has played a bit of forward and may have his future there.
• NHL potential is to be an offensive defenseman or forward.

With their last two selections it is apparent that the Rangers were putting an emphasis on skill (offensive skill to be precise) than on size. Walcott and Nanne are pretty much the same type of player – smallish defenseman who have high offensive skills and could develop into power play QBs down the road. Both project out as third line defensive pairings with the main difference being one is a left-handed shot (Walcott) and one is a right-handed shot (Nanne).

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After some 40 years at the forefront of free agency spending, the New York Yankees and their fans found out what it was like to have one of your own stars leave when Robinson Cano signed as a free agent with the Seattle Mariners.

On July 1, the New York Rangers and their fans learned a similar lesson about free agency as they watched Brian Boyle and Anton Stralman head south to Tampa Bay to join Ryan Callahan and Benoit Pouliot head west to Edmonton.

While the three Rangers players are not on par with Cano, Blueshirts fans learned the hard lesson that turnabout is fair play in free agency.

The major difference between the Yankees and the Rangers is in the why. The Yankees let Cano walk because of the franchise’s “desire” to stay under the Major League Baseball Tax threshold of $189 million – a figure they raced past in signing the likes of Carlos Beltran, Jacoby Ellsbury, Brian McCann and Masahiro Tanaka.

The Rangers decisions on free agency came down to having very little wiggle room due to the NHL’s strict salary cap. The league didn’t do the Rangers any favors when they set the 2014/2015 cap at $69 million instead of the anticipated $71 million. The Blueshirts had to weigh keeping the three Unrestricted Free Agents at the risk of losing their Restricted Free Agents (Derick Brassard, Chris Kreider, John Moore, and Mats Zuccarello), as well UFA Dominic Moore.

While having an interest in keeping the players, the Blueshirts were not going to match the five-year deals that Pouliot and Stralman received, and the Boyle situation came down to a difference in perception – the Rangers see Boyle as a fourth line center and Boyle sees himself as a top nine forward.

“We’re trying to fit guys who were good players for us. We wanted to sign them, but once that one-week period hit, we started to get wind of what their numbers would be and their terms would be,” Assistant GM Jeff Gorton explained during a conference call with the media on July 1. “Going forward, with some of the contracts we have to do and the players we have, it just became difficult.”

With all of the Rangers UFA signings (both NHL and AHL players), CapGeek lists the Rangers available cap space as around $14 million. The Rangers do have the ability to add an additional $6.9 million – which represents the summer salary cap buffer (10% of the cap). However, the team would still need to get down below $69 million by Opening Night.

As you can see, not only were the Rangers handicapped in terms of keeping their own free agents, there is not much wiggle room in terms of bringing in a second or third line center – never mind looking to bring in a first line center – unless President/GM Glen Sather gets extremely creative in terms of dealing away salary.

Even if Sather morphed into the second coming of Houdini, his ability to perform magic tricks on the salary cap is further limited because the team tries to get Marc Staal signed to a new deal before he becomes an UFA next summer.

Yes, Sather could trade him but the cost at replacing him could be even higher – in terms of talent and salary – especially when you look at some of the crazy contract figures that were thrown around for the likes of a Brooks Orpik.

The Rangers first priority is to sign Staal to a long-term contract extension. It was one of the reasons why the Rangers chose to sign Dan Boyle to a two year deal, as opposed to re-signing Stralman to a five year deal. If the Rangers went five years on Stralman and then re-signed Staal to a long-term deal, it would be difficult to have any salary cap maneuverability with five (don’t forget Kevin Klein) of your six d-men working on long-term contracts (four or more years in excess of $2.9 million).

If you figure that Brassard and Zuccarello will get contracts in excess of $3 million per season, and if you round Klein’s contract up, the Rangers will have 11 players making $3 million or more. Believe it or not, that is not the highest number of players. New Jersey has 13 players (and is under the cap) and Philadelphia has 12 (and is over the cap). Five other teams have 11 players making $3 million or more with Boston having $4.7 million in carryover bonus overages that were not factored into the number of players.

I have to admit that I thought the Rangers would have been, far and away, the leader in top-heavy contracts. I suppose it is some solace to know that there are a lot of other teams facing a similar cap hell.

There is a way the Rangers could be able to add a top six/nine forward without having to jump through salary hoops.

The Rangers would need to get a third team involved in order to pull off a three-way deal along the lines of the one that Arizona, Edmonton and the “Rangers South” (I mean Tampa Bay) pulled off.

The Lightning started the three-way deal by trading Teddy Purcell to the Oilers in exchange for Sam Gagner. Steve Yzerman was set to buy out Gagner when Coyotes GM Don Maloney contacted him about the center.

Maloney sent a sixth round draft pick to Tampa Bay for Gagner and B.J. Crombeen (cap hit of $1.15 million) as long as the Lightning agreed to retain one-third of Gagner’s salary and cap hit – the amount Tampa Bay would have been tagged with had the Lightning simply bought out Gagner.

If Sather identifies a forward that piques his interest, he will need to find a team that has cap space available to park a “retained salary transaction”. In return, that team would receive a future draft pick or prospect while retaining some salary on the books in terms of reaching the NHL minimum salary.

The key is finding the right player and the right third team. This might be the one case of having an old codger like Sather as GM might pay off. Since he has been around since the very first NHL faceoff, you know that Slats has built up a career of cache and favors. This is the case when those innocuous “future considerations” in trades can come into play.

Failing such creativity, and even if they are able to get that creative, the Rangers are going to have to rely on some of their youngsters taking the next step in their NHL careers. The likes of J.T. Miller, Oscar Lindberg and Danny Kristo will get the chance to make the permanent jump from the AHL to the NHL.

For Miller, it might be his last best chance to impress Alain Vigneault and his coaching staff because Miller sure didn’t last year. Rather than come to New York prior to training camp and skate with the team at their informal practices, Miller showed up the day before camp started – not a good way to ingratiate yourself with a new regime.

The 2014/2015 season might offer the opportunity for someone like Anthony Duclair to take the leap from Major Junior to the NHL. It is a long shot, but a big training camp could open some opportunities.

There will also be an opportunity for young turks like Brassard, Kreider, Zuccarello and Derek Stepan to elevate their games.

There might even be the chance for a dark horse to emerge and grab an opening night spot on the roster. It could be someone like Chris Mueller who was signed to a one-way contract or it could be some small free agent signing – much like Benoit Pouliot – who steps to the forefront.

Heck, the doors are not completely closed in terms of bringing in an UFA – depending on how much of the salary cap the Rangers RFAs eat up. It is possible that a couple of veteran forwards could be looking for deals as we get closer to the opening of Training Camp. The Rangers might be able to business on a very team-friendly/cap-friendly deal.

The Rangers decided not to wait until they addressed their RFAs before taking a flyer on an UFA. They have signed 32-year-old Matthew Lombardi to a two-year deal worth $800,000 per season. The 5-11/195 center led the Swiss League in scoring last year (46-20-30-50) and is a veteran of 536 NHL games (101-161-262). He last played in the NHL in 2012/2013, splitting 28 games with Phoenix and Anaheim (four goals and four assists).

Lombardi is a player that has been on the Rangers radar according to Gorton.

“We’ve been looking for depth at the center position and Matthew (Lombardi) is always a guy we’ve kept an eye on,” the Assistant GM explained.

He is also a player that is familiar to Coach Alain Vigneault from their years in the Western Conference and Ulf Samuelsson was an assistant coach with the Coyotes during Lombardi’s first tenure in Phoenix.

Lombardi plays a finesse game that is built on his speed, agility and overall skating ability. He has a history of injury problems, the most troublesome being concussions and post-concussion syndrome. His concussion history started during the 2004 Stanley Cup playoffs when he took a Derian Hatcher elbow to his head.

Another player the Rangers might have considered is former Phoenix 1st round draft pick Peter Mueller. The 6-2/210 C/RW has struggled after posting a solid rookie season in 2007/2008 (81-22-32-54). Like Lombardi, most of Mueller’s problems stemmed from a concussion late in the 2009/2010 and then another concussion near the end of training camp in 2010/2011 on a hit from Rob Blake. That concussion and post-concussion syndrome forced Mueller to miss that entire season.

The 26-year-old spent last season with Kloten in Switzerland (49-24-22-46) and was last in the NHL during the lockout shortened season of 2012/2013 when he scored 17 points playing with Florida.

In the end, all of that will not amount to a hill of beans if Rick Nash and Martin St. Louis do not live up to the numbers on the backs of their hockey cards. As I said all throughout the playoffs, the Rangers best players have to be their best players.

So after the smoke has cleared on the opening days of Free Agent Frenzy 2014, are the New York Rangers a better team now than they were in the wee hours of June 14? No, they are not.

Will the Rangers be a better team at the start of the 2014/2015 season than they were at the end of the 2013/2014 season? No, they probably won’t be.

Will the Rangers be a better team on January 1, 2015 that they were on July 1, 2014? No, they probably won’t be.

Will the Rangers be a better team after the 2015 Trade Deadline than they are now? That is the time they have to be a better team and the start of being that better team will depend on how successfully Glen Sather runs the salary cap gauntlet during the summer. He has to make sure he has enough cap space to be able to correct any of the holes that might still be around as a result summer trades and free agency machinations.

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