Regarding the Rangers, who will announce their final mass cutdown Thursday after sending Gabriel Fontaine and Trevor Halverson to AHL Hartford on Wednesday:
1. My opening roster up front by line combination:
Chris Kreider – Mika Zibanejad – Mats Zuccarello
Jimmy Vesey – Kevin Hayes – J.T. Miller
Rick Nash – Filip Chytil – Pavel Buchnevich
Michael Grabner – David Desharnais – Vinni Lettieri/Paul Carey.
Boo Nieves as spare center.
2. Lias Andersson, who turns 19 on Oct. 13, ultimately will play for Frolunda (SEL) if he is not in New York. I do not believe he separated himself enough to earn a spot on the opening roster, and don’t see how both he and Chytil fit at the same time given Desharnais’ presence.
But I would keep the seventh-overall selection with the club through the team-bonding trip to Lake Placid that begins Sunday and then assign him to Hartford for the first couple of weeks of the season so management has a chance to measure his progress and see how things shake out with Chytil.
As I mentioned a couple of days ago, Jordan Staal with the Penguins in 2006-07 is the only player since 2005-06 with as late of a birthdate as Chytil (Sept. 10) to play at least 40 NHL games in his draft year, per Hockey-Reference.com’s play index. Patrick Marleau (Sept. 15) and Grant Mulvey (Sept. 17) are the only two players I could find with the same or later birthdates to do it since 1966-67.
3. Chytil has flashed rare offensive ability through the preseason, special and salivating enough for the Rangers — who have traded their two most productive centers in Derick Brassard and Derek Stepan over the last two summers — to want to get more of a look at the 18-year-old even as he’s at times been, well, an 18-year-old in his own end and the neutral zone.
He has shown toughness, responding after being clocked more than once in open-ice. After taking a big, high (legal) hit at the offensive line from the notorious Radko Gudas with 7:50 to play in the third period Monday at the Garden against the Flyers, Chytil walked in from the right boards with a chance to win it with 1:47 to go in regulation before being denied by Michal Neuvirth and then created another golden opportunity in overtime.
Remember this: The first year of an entry-level contract does not kick in until a player has played his 10th NHL game. Thus, Andersson (and Chytil) could play an unlimited number of AHL games without contract concerns.
4. I don’t think Nieves was quite the standout he was in camp last year, when his speed set him apart, but I believe, a) he is capable of fourth-line duty; and, b) there is more benefit to having Andersson play big minutes in Hartford awaiting a final decision than being in New York as a spare.
If, however, the Blueshirts decide to keep eight defensemen rather than seven, Nieves could go to the Wolf Pack and await a recall, if necessary.
5. The 22-year-old Lettieri and the 29-year-old Carey (1-1 in 32 NHL games with Colorado and Washington) asserted themselves throughout camp with their skating, speed and energy. Carey would require waivers in order to go to Hartford.
Keeping Lettieri and Carey means that Matt Puempel, who, other than an ill-advised fight with New Jersey’s Yappin’ Nick Lappin, was effectively unseen in his preseason, would go on waivers, from whence the Rangers claimed the skilled 2011 first-rounder from Ottawa last November.
6. My defense pairs:
Ryan McDonagh – Kevin Shattenkirk
Brady Skjei – Brendan Smith
Marc Staal – Nick Holden
Anthony DeAngelo as the seventh defenseman.
7. Neal Pionk had a strong camp, but there is little benefit to keeping both him and the 21-year-old DeAngelo as right-handed spares when major minutes and responsibility beckon in the AHL for the 22-year-old, first-year pro.
Ryan Graves established himself as a potential recall on the left side if injuries strike. Steven Kampfer, whose skating game is favored by coach Alain Vigneault, played well. If the Rangers are concerned about losing him on waivers, he could stick as an eighth defenseman.
If the Rangers do start with eight that would mean either Nieves or Lettieri would start in Hartford.
8. And if the Rangers do have eight on the blue line, that would only be the case until Holden’s situation is sorted out and his trade value becomes more apparent as the first month evolves.
Remember this: Marc Staal has a no-move clause, so you can stop clamoring for the alternate captain to be waived. Vigneault likes Holden, who also can play on the left. Is it possible that the third pair could become Holden-DeAngelo with Staal a scratch if warranted? Yes, but probably not to start.
9. Under any permutation, a 23-man roster (including goaltenders Henrik Lundqvist and Ondrej Pavelec) plus Jesper Fast will leave the Rangers with between $425,000 and $550,000 in cap space. Not ideal.
10. If Fast — rehabbing from hip surgery — starts on LTI, he is not eligible to play until the club’s 11th game, Oct. 26 against Arizona. If a return is projected before then, the winger would start on IR. There is no cap benefit in either case.
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