LAS VEGAS - Friday night's game against the Los Angeles Kings at the MGM Grand Hotel was the last opportunity for some prospects to impress Rangers head coach Alain Vigneault and his staff.
"There are a lot of players right now that are close, but haven't really shown to me that they can play at this level on a consistent basis," Vigneault said after Thursday night's 5-0 defeat in Vancouver. "A couple of young guys will get a chance [Friday night], but they're definitely going to have to do better."
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That group includes forwards Chris Kreider, who has not performed at the level expected, J.T. Miller, Oscar Lindberg, Marek Hrivik, Jesper Fast and Brandon Mashinter. The veterans on the bubble are Darroll Powe and Arron Asham. For the second consecutive night, Brad Richards was centering Rick Nash and Benoit Pouliot. Henrik Lundqvist also started in goal again.
With center Derek Stepan signing a two-year deal Thursday, there is one fewer available spot on the 23-man roster, especially in the middle, where the Blueshirts have Derick Brassard, Richards and Dominic Moore, as well as Brian Boyle, who will likely be shifted to the wing. That doesn't bode well for Lindberg, who will likely be assigned to Hartford when the final roster cuts are made this weekend.
Mats Zuccarello, Derek Dorsett and Taylor Pyatt are under contract and were not in the lineup. Asham and Powe were already waived once, and could be again.
Neither Ryan Callahan nor Carl Hagelin are sufficiently recovered from offseason shoulder surgery, so Vigneault needs players who can contribute until they return. The clubhouse leaders appear to be: Kreider, a left wing who has skated in the playoffs for two consecutive seasons and played 23 regular-season games last year; Miller, who played 26 games and can play wing or center; and Hrivik, who had seven goals and 19 assists in his rookie season with Hartford.
On defense, the top six are set, and Justin Falk and Stu Bickel, who played Friday, could be the spares if Vigneault keeps eight blueliners for the long western road trip to open the season. Conor Allen has promise, but probably needs to play regularly in the AHL.
About 12,000 fans were expected to be on hand for this annual event, called Frozen Fury. The Kings also host the Colorado Avalanche here Saturday.