Rangers players gather for annual informal skates

J.T. Miller looks to pass during the second J.T. Miller looks to pass during the second period of a game against the Islanders at Nassau Coliseum. (Oct. 29, 2013) Photo Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke

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GREENBURGH, N.Y - Quickly curling into the corner, J.T. Miller slid a no-look, backhanded pass to Dan Girardi, who was cutting through traffic to the crease. The veteran Rangers defenseman converted the pass and, with a big smile on his face, shimmied in a celebratory dance.

It was just an informal three-on-three scrimmage at the MSG Training Center on Tuesday, but it provided one of the first glimpses of NHL hockey in these parts since the Stanley Cup Final in June.

In an annual ritual, a number of Rangers ranging from Henrik Lundqvist to prospects have been gathering in Westchester this week for morning skates that include some conditioning drills in advance of the mandatory physicals that mark the opening of camp on Sept. 18.

On Tuesday, the scrimmages, which seem to elicit the most chirping and laughter, included these pairings: Dan Boyle, Carl Hagelin and Dom Moore or Matt Lombardi; Miller, Girardi and either Chris Kreider or Mike Kantor; Martin St. Louis, Kevin Klein and drop-in Alex Kovalev, 41, who played in Switzerland last season and retired in July. On Wednesday, only about nine players -- no goalies -- took the ice, as opposed to the 11 to 15 players on Monday and Tuesday.

Marc Staal, Mats Zuccarello, Derick Brassard, Kevin Hayes, Ryan Haggerty and Marek Hrivik also have skated in these workouts, which will continue through next week, when rookies arrive in advance of the Traverse City Tournament in Michigan featuring prospects from eight NHL clubs.

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First impressionsMiller, 21, who did not report to camp until required last season, looks quicker and sharper in what appears to be a watershed year for the Ohio native. The Rangers would love him to make the team and produce on the third line, either at center or wing. Martin St. Louis, as usual, appears in terrific shape and impressed with a couple of pinpoint shots. As he exited the ice, Staal said he felt fine and enjoyed the too-short summer.

Interest in Malone?There is no official word on training camp invitees, although rumblings continue that the front office is interested in unrestricted free agent Ryan Malone, 34, pending the resolution of his legal and personal issues.

On Aug. 19 in Tampa, Malone pleaded no contest to driving under the influence after an April 11 arrest and agreed to a diversion program for possession of 1.3 grams of cocaine. If he completes the program, the felony drug charge will be dismissed. His license was suspended for six months and he was assigned 50 hours of community service.

The 6-4 left wing, who has scored at least 20 goals six times, has 370 points in 641 games and collected 689 penalty minutes. His agent told the Tampa Times that several teams have asked about his client, but he has not yet responded to inquiries from Newsday.

No MooreThere is no update on the status of defenseman John Moore, a restricted free agent without arbitration rights who has not agreed to a contract. Moore, 23, was 4-11-15 in 74 games last season and was a solid third-pair partner with Klein.

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Blue notesSt. Louis and Anton Stralman, now with the Lightning, were the only players who didn't live in Manhattan last season. Several more likely are, or will be, making their in-season homes in the suburbs: Boyle, Girardi, Klein, Lombardi and Lee Stempniak, who all have families . . . Lundqvist will appear on David Letterman's show Monday . . . Lombardi will wear No. 45 and defenseman Mike Kostka will wear No. 4.

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