Saturday, October 1, 2011

Projecting Ahead

In somewhat of a surprising move, the Rangers cut defenseman Tim Erixon, reassigning him to Connecticut. The 20-year old Swede who impressed so much at Traverse City, still needs fine tuning. Though the son of former Ranger Jan Erixon possesses the speed and skating along with a potent shot, he had trouble with the speed of the game defensively- forced into bad penalties this preseason.

There's no shame in not making the roster even if Marc Staal remains very much up in the air due to headaches. It's unlikely Staal will join the team in Europe for the final two preseason matches before '11-12 gets going with back-to-back games versus Pacific rivals Los Angeles and Anaheim. As I've repeatedly said, the Rangers are better off playing it safe with their 24-year old D anchor. If that means missing the first seven games before the club finally returns to a renovated MSG for the home opener on Oct.27, so be it. His health is the most important thing.

Erixon will start with the Whale like Ryan McDonagh, who had a better camp last Fall before going down to get ready for the bigs. His development paid off with the former Wisconsin standout becoming a reliable top four blueliner, allowing the Blueshirts to trade Michal Rozsival to Rangers West Phoenix. Hopefully, Erixon can make a similar progression. I'm sure we haven't seen the last of him.

Joining Erixon in Connecticut are defenseman Blake Parlett and forwards Ryan Bourque, Carl Hagelin, Dale Weise, Kris Newbury and John Mitchell. Considering nearly everyone showed something, it's easy to be excited about our team's depth. Especially Bourque, Hagelin and Weise, who deserved a better fate. Perhaps another team will give him a shot.

Not surprisingly, 2010 first round pick Dylan McIlrath was set back to his junior club Moose Jaw. I really liked what I saw from the big guy, who Garden Faithful should be counting down the days till he becomes part of our team. Sure. That probably won't be till '12-13 at the earliest but it's hard not to like the edge he plays with along with underrated stickhandling and passing capabilities.

With the Rangers down to 25, Erik Christensen, Stu Bickell and Brendan Bell are still around. So are Sean Avery and Mike Del Zotto, who boosted his chances with a goal in the club's 4-2 win over Henrik Lundqvist's former pro club Frolunda yesterday. Hopefully, that'll give the third-year defenseman some much needed confidence as they get down to the nitty gritty. Steve Eminger is likely to start until Staal returns. The gritty vet was a revelation last year, silencing many cynics with sound physical play and elevating his level when called upon. It looks like Del Zotto, Bickell and Bell are fighting for a couple of spots while Avery has the inside track as an extra forward over Christensen, who also notched a goal Friday.

If I had to guess what the Opening Day lineup will look like, here's what I see:

Wolski-Richards-Gaborik
Dubinsky-Anisimov-Callahan
Fedotenko-Stepan-Zuccarello
Prust-Boyle-Rupp

Extra F: Avery

McDonagh-Girardi
Del Zotto-Sauer
Bell-Eminger

Extra: Bickel

Lundqvist
Biron


For now, I excluded Staal, which means Bickel stays as the backup. I wouldn't be surprised if Tort teams Eminger with Sauer and has Del Zotto with either Bell or Bickel. Last year, Eminger stepped up. We'll see.

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