Peter Laviolette and his New York Rangers get set to hit the ice for the first time this season tomorrow with high expectations and plenty of questions that need to be answered.
Wednesday morning 58 players will enter the New York Rangers Training Center in Tarrytown, NY, officially starting the 2023-2024 season with the opening of Training Camp. The team will participate in off-ice sessions before hitting the ice on Thursday beginning at 8:00 a.m. with the first of three group practices scheduled.
This season is loaded with questions that may take a few weeks to be addressed. Laviolette is tasked with finding the right buttons to push for the Blueshirts to get off to a fast start.
Forwards locked in, but positions are up in the air
The Blueshirts pretty much have their top 12 forwards already locked in. Nick Bonino, Filip Chytil, Barclay Goodrow, Kaapo Kakko, Chris Kreider, Alexis Lafreniere, Artemi Panarin, Tyler Pitlick, Vincent Trocheck, Jimmy Vesey, Blake Wheeler, and Mika Zibanejad. The hard work for the new coaching staff is line combinations.
-Will Laviolette keep Kreider with Zibanejad?
-Is the “Kid Line” gone for good?
-Will Chytil jump into the second-line center position?
-If so where will Trocheck be productive on the third line?
The issue of ice time vs. position has been a hot topic in the weeks leading up to camp. GM Chris Drury has stated that both Alexis Lafrenière and 2021 first-round draft pick Brennan Othmann would receive opportunities to play on the right side. Othmann has already begun this transition, receiving some playing time on the right side during the Rangers’ rookie camp last week.
Can Brennan Othmann earn a spot in the opening night lineup?
Othmann may be the most talked about player in camp this year. Can he play his way into the starting lineup on opening night in Buffalo?
He has shown he has the talent, the drive, and the desire to play the game. Is there a need to rush him to the NHL immediately, or would a year in the AHL benefit Othmann’s game long-term? If Othmann does make the team, who is the player that gets removed from the lineup?
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The defense has an open spot for competition
The Blueline will have a close battle for the open sixth and seventh defenseman positions as Adam Fox, Ryan Lindgren, Jacob Trouba, K’Aandre Miller, and Braden Schneider are set to begin the season on defense.
The club will be looking at Zac Jones, Erik Gustafsson, and Matthew Robertson to fight for the roster spots.
Jones was considered the best option to make the squad last season, but things didn’t proceed as he would have liked, only appearing in 16 games last year.
Roberston played last season in Hartford where he had 23 points (5G-18A) in 57 games for the Wolf Pack, ranking fourth among the team defensemen in points.
The veteran Gustafsson is bringing experience to the team. Last season he netted seven goals and 35 assists for 42 points in 70 games and a plus-9 rating, splitting time between the Toronto Maple Leafs and Washington Capitals.
In his career, Gustafsson posted 39 goals and 152 assists for 191 points in 379 career NHL games with the Maple Leafs, Capitals, Chicago Blackhawks, Montreal Canadiens, Philadelphia Flyers, and Calgary Flames.
Expectations for the Rangers this season
The Rangers are coming off a disappointing first-round playoff loss to the New Jersey Devils last postseason. Now the Blueshirts and their new coach look not only to make the playoffs but to at the very least make a deep run back to the Eastern Conference Finals as they did in 2022.
The Rangers are as close to a “win-now” mandate as a hockey team can get. The pressure to win a cup has intensified with players getting older, contracts becoming harder to maintain long-term status, and a fan base that has been more than patient ever since the “rebuild” letter some five years ago.
Laviolette took this coaching job that leaves no margin for error. Every decision he makes about the lineup, combinations, and even who starts in goal will be under a microscope.
They say playing under the bright lights of Madison Square Garden is the best place to play. The Rangers hope to find success early on in the season. The questions and expectations will be ongoing throughout the 82-game campaign should the team struggle to succeed.
Follow Frank on X at @RangerProud