GREENBURGH, N.Y. - Mats Zuccarello Aasen. Alexander Frolov. Derek Stepan. Ryan McDonagh. Tim Kennedy. Martin Biron. Derek Boogaard. Ruslan Fedotenko.

Eight players of all ages, skills and sizes will don Rangers sweaters at Madison Square Garden for the first time Thursday night as the Blueshirts open their six-game exhibition season against the New Jersey Devils.

"I've just got a good feeling in my gut," coach John Tortorella said Wednesday while discussing the upcoming season. Last season, the Rangers needed a serious gut check in the final 15 games and still fell short of the playoffs for the first time in five years.

"I feel more comfortable with the players and I think they feel more comfortable with us," he said. "They know what to expect. I think we're comfortable with how we're going to play. I think that's going to be an easier transition this year.''

The Devils are a team in transition, with a reshaped first line of $100-million man Ilya Kovalchuk, Travis Zajac and Zach Parise that is expected to start Thursday. The veteran Martin Brodeur will be in goal, but his nemesis, Sean Avery, won't be in the lineup.


Neither will Henrik Lundqvist, who was on the money in Wednesday's's 6-1 scrimmage win. Both are expected to dress in the rematch Saturday at The Rock. Tortorella wants Biron, the former Flyer and Islander who will back up Lundqvist, to "get a look at the Garden and get a game right away."

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Following tonight's game and the afternoon rookie game against the Devils in Newark, the 60-man roster will be trimmed by 22 to 26 players.

Notes & quotes: D Dylan McIlrath, the club's first-round draft pick in June (10th overall), made some nice plays in the scrimmage, catching up to Avery on a breakaway and assisting on Brandon Dubinsky's goal. "I got a boatload of confidence after that [the Avery play]," he said. To no one's surprise, he will be returned to juniors in Moose Jaw. "We're excited about what he's going to be, but he's got to wait his turn," Tortorella said . . . C Todd White, 35, acquired from Atlanta in the Donald Brashear deal, is being held out to continue his recovery from off-season shoulder surgery . . . D Wade Redden was at the hospital with his wife, who is expecting.