Tomorrow marks the start of training camp for the New York Rangers, however the first time that the new team will hit the ice will be on Friday. Thursday is reserved for physicals and meetings so not much will be happening from a fan's point of view. When the season starts, we know the Rangers have offensive talent in the form of Jagr, Straka, Shanahan, Prucha and newly acquired Drury and Gomez. We also know that there will be a solid stopper in net in the form of Henrik Lundqvist. The biggest question mark, and possibly the best story to watch, might be the defense. The Rangers haven't had a solid number one defense man since the departure of Brian Leetch. This year is no different, with the Blueshirts having basically four solid second pairing d-men.
Michal Roszival showed a lot of what made people excited about him when he was in Pittsburgh with his stellar play last year. While many people see him building from that for this year, he still has some growing to do on defense. He will likely man the Rangers' first unit with the ever popular Marek Malik.
Malik, in many people's opinions, belongs not on the first line, but on the firing line. Defensive gaffs last year led to a chorus of boos every time he touched the puck. He's a big guy, and could be a good defense man if he threw his weight around and looked where he was passing the puck now and then. Look for him to rebound slightly this season as it is clear that he is not going anywhere.
Fedor Tyutin has the potential to be something special. Hard shot, hard hitter, shuts down the other team's offense when he's on the ice. He just needs to fine tune his skills and he could become a force on the blue line. Paul Mara has great offensive ability, as shown by his decent power play time that he got towards the end of last season. If he can learn better defensive positioning, he could be a fine asset to have as well.
Maybe the biggest surprise of the season last year was Dan Girardi. Girardi came up from Hartford just to fill in for a couple of games, maybe get a tryout of sorts. He wound up being a great partner for Tyutin and a solid stay at home defense man. He's young, and still has a lot to learn at the NHL level, but if the other team doesn't score when he's on the ice, I'd be more than happy to keep him around.
Past these five players, the last spot is up for grabs between a bunch of able candidates. The underused Thomas Pock will get a look, but has never really been used as much as he deserves. He looked out of place at times last season, but he only really played once injuries set in. Jason Strudwick is a great locker room presence, and will stick up for anyone on his team. There are probably better options than him in terms of skills, but he is nice to have as a 7th man.
A big question mark is Darius Kasparaitis. Kasper is said to be 25 pounds lighter, much speedier on his skates and showing off a repertoire of finesse moves. If he is anything like his pre-lockout days, I would love to stick him with Mara as a third pair.
Lastly you have the "kids." Little is known about newly acquired Andrew Hutchinson, although the general feeling is that he may not make the Rangers out of camp. Other youngsters that deserve a look are Ivan Baranka, David Liffiton and Bobby Sanguinetti. Oh, and there's this kid named Marc Staal, maybe you've heard of him.
Sorry for such a long article, but this is a huge pre-season story to follow as Ranger fans. It should be interesting to see who makes the starting lineup come October 4th. I'll check back in over the weekend. Until then, comment back. Let's hear your thoughts.