Hockey is finally back — and in the Big Apple too.
The New York Rangers open up their six-game pre-season tonight against their crosstown rivals the New Jersey Devils — 7:00pm at Madison Square Garden.
Rangers’ head coach Alain Vigneault addressed the media yesterday, and while there are limited roster spots available — Vigneault expressed that the organization will be paying close attention to a few of the younger players trying to crack the club’s lineup come October.
Players to keep an eye on who will be dressing tonight are Marek Hrivik, Oscar Lindberg, Dylan McIlrath, Brady Skjei and Ryan Bourque. The prospects will look to impress Vigneault and company against a New Jersey Devils team, who lost their pre-season opener to the Boston Bruins 2-0 last night.
Though, the more intriguing story happens to be in the team’s goaltending crease. A lot of attention will be shifted towards the question of, “Who will be goalie Henrik Lundqvist’s backup to start the season?”
Goalies Antti Raanta and Magnus Hellberg will strap on the pads for the Rangers tonight and for tomorrow night’s game when New York visits Philadelphia to take on the Flyers. Since the team traded backup hero Cam Talbot this offseason, the Rangers made it clear that the position to fill behind “The King” on the depth chart is up for grabs. Immediately after the Talbot move — Raanta was acquired via trade from the Chicago Blackhawks. The Finnish netminder had spent the last two seasons in Chicago as a quality backup, but that was before he lost his positon to Scott Darling.
Hellberg has spent the past few seasons in the Nashville Predators’ farm system, and has only dressed in one NHL regular-season-game. It would appear that there’s more pressure on Raanta, age 32, to perform during New York’s first two pre-season games. Yet, the backup goalie position in the NHL is no longer taken lightly like it was in years past. If Hellberg, a Swedish born, impresses the organization even the slightest bit – they may take him over Raanta to start the season — and have a “Two-headed Swedish Monster” in New York’s blue paint.
If you’re asking yourself why isn’t Mackenzie Skapski, who became the backup last season post Lundqvist’s injury, getting any looks? It’s because Skapski will be out of commission until early November due to the recovery of hip surgery from June.
It’s more than likely Raanta’s spot to lose, but either way the Rangers do have depth and flexibility in goal for it to not become an ongoing question mark or issue as the season plays out.
Another new face to watch out for is Viktor Stalberg. Stalberg will make his Rangers debut tonight after being in and out of the Predators lineup the past two seasons (AHL & NHL). He’ll look to make the team as a role player on either the third or fourth line.
Familiar faces who will be skating tonight are Chris Kreider, Derek Stepan and Dominic Moore. There has been no word yet if forward Mats Zuccarello will dress anytime soon for the pre-season, since being injured last postseason against the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Here’s the Rangers full lineup for tonight:
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