Before the Rangers left for Europe to conclude their preseason schedule, coach John Tortorella stressed that he wants to continue adding young talent to the roster and would be disappointed if that didn't happen. Now, six days before the team's regular-season opener in Stockholm against the Kings, that infusion has been delayed.
The Rangers on Saturday assigned eight players to the AHL, including top prospects such as Swedish defenseman Tim Erixon and forwards Carl Hagelin, Ryan Bourque and Dale Weise. That leaves the Rangers a roster similar to the one near the end of last season, plus veteran forwards Brad Richards and Mike Rupp, free agents acquired in July.
"I think he has a bright future," Tortorella said of Erixon, 20. "I know everybody talked about him stepping in and playing but that's a very difficult thing to do in the NHL, especially on defense. The most important thing is getting him playing immediately, getting him used to the North American style. We want him to follow Ryan McDonagh [who spent the first half of last season in the AHL before being recalled and blossoming into a top-four defenseman] . . . Hagelin and Bourque, they need to go and play. Weise, he had an even better camp this year than last. He'll probably get some games in along the way." Weise has to clear waivers, however.
Twenty-five players remain for exhibitions Sunday in Bratislava and Monday in Zug, Switzerland. Twelve forwards, including Mats Zuccarello, are locks, and the 13th spot is up for grabs between Sean Avery and Erik Christensen, Tortorella said Saturday.
Defensemen Stu Bickel, who turned 25 Saturday, and Brendan Bell, 28, who played in Switzerland last season, survived the trims; either could be sent to the Connecticut Whale when Michael Sauer recovers from his right shoulder sprain and Marc Staal recovers from his concussion-related headaches.
"When you have injuries, it gives other people the opportunity to step up," Tortorella said of Bickel. "He has certainly done that. I'm impressed."