The Rangers battalion of players under the age of 25 will dominate the conversation for most of this week’s training camp and for that matter the entire 2022-23 season.
Could Alexis Lafrenier, the prized first-overall pick of Blueshirts from two years ago, bag a bigger role? Will Kapo Kako, who was the No. 2 pick in 2019, be able to stay healthy and have an impressive year? And with restricted free agency coming into its season, can Philippe Chitill step up his dominant game from the postseason? The continued upward movement of defensemen K’Andre Miller and Braden Schneider will also be crucial. As is Adam Fox and Ryan Lindgren, who are easy to forget, both still only 24.
“It was exciting to see what they did last year,” chairman and general manager Chris Drury said during the rookie camp last week. “Basically, after the All Star Game for most of them, I think they all came back with a slightly different mindset. Played some good hockey down the stretch and then we all saw what they did in the playoffs. I think they are excited about this opportunity.
“I think there is an opportunity for all of them to play more influential roles in the lineup day by day. Be it [power play], top nine, top six. I think they are trying to grab it and it will be fun to watch. ,
Before their six-game preseason slate begins on Monday against the Islanders, however, management will have an evaluation period during training camp. Here are the top stories, in no particular order, to follow as a week-long camp:
Lafrenier switches to his off-side to fill the right wing position in the first row and seize the job.
of all the wings Competition for a place in the top six, Lafreniere has logged the most time (25 games) on the first unit with Chris Kredder and Mika Zibnejad. The 20-year-old should be there for the first time, but it will take him much longer than the commitment to an off-side switch to be there.
Frank Watrano, who is now with the Ducks after helping the Rangers to the conference finals in the form of a trade-deadline takeover last season, was part of the reason he worked so well with Creder and Zibnejad in his shoot-first mentality. As a developing player, Lafreniere may have to add a little more to his game to fit the role.
Vitaly Kravtsov returned to the Rangers locker room for the first time since bail last season
Full range of dynamics between Rangers and Kravtsov can never be crystal clear, but how the Russian winger handles his reunion at the club will tell a lot. When he didn’t make the Rangers’ opening-night roster last season, Kravtsov refused an AHL assignment and went home to play in the Continental Hockey League, where he had already spent parts of six seasons.
Had Kravtsov reported to Hartford, there’s no doubt he would have seen NHL ice sooner amid injuries and COVID-19 cases. Nevertheless, he opted to play elsewhere. Being accountable is part of being a professional and there will be questions about his decisions. While Kravtsov, who arrived in New York this summer to begin training, is in line for a key role on the Rangers team, he hasn’t always acted like he’d like to be a part.
Competition for the job of 6th Defenseman
There aren’t a whole lot of spots for Rangers to capture, but round the defense Most notable is the wide open job. To the Rangers’ advantage, it’s also the one with the most competition. Zack Jones, Libor Hajek and Matt Robertson are considered the frontrunners, but the recent signing of veteran defenseman Matt Bartkowski to a professional tryout contract gives head coach Gerard Gallant another option.
First Look at Artemi Panarin and Vincent Trochek
The loss of Ryan Strom will undoubtedly be felt in the locker room, but hopefully it won’t be as noticeable on the ice with the addition of Vincent Trochek. Artemi Panarin has proven time and again that he can develop chemistry with anyone. 2 center is an important role on every team and Rangers are no different, but with such a top-heavy lineup it will be even more important to the team’s success. Following a pair whose nickname was bread-and-butter will be tough for Trochek, but the veteran center has the potential to change the look of the top six.
Personnel decision will decide the identity of the fourth line
We saw a lot of different combinations on the bottom unit last season. Each variation could bring a different style of play and this helped give Rangers a different look at the time. From the physical group of Greg McKegg (now with the Oilers) – Kevin Rooney (now with the Flames) – Ryan Reeves to the sharp Tyler Motte (now with the Senators) – Johnny Brodzinski – Dryden Hunt, they all displayed a different perspective did. Rangers still have options for the fourth line, but it will be important to be strategic. Reeves, Brodzinski, and Hunt are still in the mix, as are Sammy Blass, Ryan Carpenter, Julian Gauthier, Gustav Ridahl, and maybe even Will Cule.