GREENBURGH, N.Y. - The door is open. Prospects Evgeny Grachev, Derek Stepan and Ryan McDonagh have a chance to step in. Scrimmages start Tuesday for 28 youngsters at the Rangers' annual prospects camp, and coach John Tortorella said adding more fresh faces to a core of youngsters is a priority. Those three, who skated in conditioning drills Monday, and Dale Weise, a rugged forward who played in Hartford last season, will get long looks before October.
To be sure, the Rangers will acquire a veteran to back up goaltender Henrik Lundqvist, who appeared in 73 games plus the Olympics last season, but otherwise, Tortorella prefers rookies over graybeards.
"We need some help right up the middle on our back line and center ice," Tortorella said. "It doesn't have to be a 35-year-old veteran, it could be a kid, but you have to live with the bumps. I'm anxious to see Stepan [a center] play and see what he does, and McDonagh [a defenseman]. As far as where our philosophy's going . . . we want to add with our youth and not a veteran guy at the end of his career."
That doesn't seem to bode well for Vinny Prospal, 34, an unrestricted free agent who had 20 goals and 58 points last season.
During the draft in Los Angeles last weekend and the week leading up to it, Tortorella said "a lot of teams were asking about our kids. There were deals to be made there; they wanted our kids. We stayed steady. We need to continue doing that.''
After being the last cut in training camp last fall, Grachev, a 6-4, 220-pound forward, struggled to adjust with Hartford in his first year as a pro. But the 20-year-old will have a shot.
"We're very high on him, but potential is one thing," Tortorella said. "He needs to show it and he'll certainly get the opportunity if he shows it.''
Insiders say the front office would love to see Stepan, 20, who has agreed to a three-year entry-level deal, make the team. Stepan had 12 goals and 54 points in his second year at the University of Wisconsin this past season, led all scorers in the World Junior Championships and captained the gold-medal U.S. team.
McDonagh, a former first-round pick acquired in the trade that sent Scott Gomez to Montreal last summer, seems NHL-ready physically, but he has not decided whether to forgo his senior year with the Badgers.
"It'd be my team and I could lead by example," McDonagh said. "And at Wisconsin, there's always the chance to get back to the next championship game."
This week, he said, will play a big part in his decision. Both McDonagh and last weekend's first-round selection, punishing defenseman Dylan McIlrath, who will skate Wednesday, presumably would fill another need that Tortorella identified.
"It's not about the fighting," he said. "Just more of our presence around the blue [the crease] to protect our goalies a little bit better, and really at that position, just to have a little more jam."