Rangers training camp starts with some roster issues

The New York Rangers training camp starts today and the roster has been announced

The New York Rangers announced their training camp roster and there are few surprises.  There are some questions about depth, especially on defense.    There are 33 players participating in the camp with that number to be pared down to 31 for the playoffs.   Here is the list of players at camp:

Goalies (4): Alexander Georgiev, Adam Huska, Henrik Lundqvist, Igor Shesterkin

Forwards (19): Pavel BuchnevichFilip Chytil, Phillip Di Giuseppe, Jesper Fast, Steven Forgarty, Julien Gauthier, Tim Gettinger, Micheal Haley, Brett Howden, Kaapo Kakko, Vitali Kravtsov, Chris Kreider, Brendan Lemieux, Vinni Lettieri, Greg McKegg, Danny O’Regan, Artemi Panarin, Ryan Strome, Mika Zibanejad

Defensemen (10): Brandon Crawley, Tony DeAngelo, Adam Fox, Libor Hajek, Ryan Lindgren, K’Andre Miller, Darren Raddysh, Brendan Smith, Marc Staal, Jacob Trouba

Who will be cut?

The only player who has practically no chance of making the final 31 player list is goalie Adam Huska.  That means that one more player won’t make the squad.  The odds on favorite is rookie defenseman K’Andre Miller.

The issue for Miller is that the team would not want to burn off the first year of his Entry Level Contract (ELC) if the Rangers are eliminated early.  A player is allowed to play a maximum of nine NHL games (regular season or playoffs) before it counts as his first ELC contract year.

Could Miller prove that he is worth keeping during training camp?  Absolutely.  He has to play in nine games, not just be on the roster so he could be kept just for the experience, but with the unknowns of the pandemic as well as injuries, that could be a luxury the team cannot afford.

In 2012 the Rangers signed Chris Kreider to his ELC  out of Boston College and he played in 18 playoff games.  While he set a scoring record for playoff goals by a player who had never played in the NHL, it did mean that he became eligible for free agency one year early.

Defense depth

The Rangers finished their regular season with only six defensemen on the roster.  It appears that they will be carry Libor Hajek, Darren Raddysh and Brandon Crawley as spares.   There’s not a lot of experience in that group with only 33 NHL games played, all by Hajek.

If the team is hit by some COVID-19 infections or injuries, they could find themselves playing as many as four rookie defensemen at the same time. If Miller makes the team, it could be five rookies. That would be unprecedented.

None of the spare defensemen have any playoff experience.  That goes for Adam Fox, Tony DeAngelo and Ryan Lindgren as well.

Forward depth

The team will have seven spare forwards on the roster.   Tim Gettinger, Phil Di Giuseppe, Steve Fogarty and Micheal Haley all saw action with the Rangers this season.  Danny O’Regan and Vinny Lettieri have played in the NHL before this year. The only rookie is winger Vitali Kravtsov.

The only spare forward with any playoff experience is Micheal Haley who played 13 postseason games with the Rangers and San Jose.

Brendan Lemieux is waiting to hear how long his suspension will be for his headshot on Joonas Donskoi in the last game before the pause. Based on prior suspensions in the postseason, the belief is that Lemieux will be out for two games though it could be more.  No matter the length,the expectation would be that he would be replaced by Di Giuseppe though any one of the spares could earn a starting role in his absence.

One curious absence is Boo Nieves. Nieves has the most experience of any player with the Wolf Pack and has the big body a team like the Rangers could use in the postseason.   There was room on the training camp roster to bring him, but it appears he has fallen off the depth chart.

The unknowns

With training camps opening, the NHL is entering the riskiest phase of their Return to Play plan. There’s a much greater opportunity for infection while players are living at home and interacting with people who could have the virus.  As of last week, 32 players had tested positive, an infection rate higher than the general population in the United States.

Over the weekend, it was reported that three Montreal Canadiens had tested positive.  It’s unknown what the consequences of that will be and whether the team will have to institute any kind of larger quarantine due to contact tracing.

The NHL has to be concerned about outbreaks like these.  Two Major League Soccer teams, FC Dallas and SC Nashville both pulled out of their return to play tournament due to COVID-19 outbreaks.   It’s entirely possible that NHL teams may have to withdraw from the Stanley Cup Qualifier if they are hammered by the virus.

The teams are 13 days away from traveling to their hub cities and you have to believe that the teams cannot get there fast enough.

It’s just another layer of uncertainty in what has been months filled with uncertainty.