GREENBURGH, N.Y. -- The tough decisions are coming closer for the Rangers.
Head coach Alain Vigneault said Thursday morning that the roster will be trimmed to six lines and 9-to-11 defensemen after Thursday night's game in Boston. He declared he will keep just 13 forwards, and depending on the cap situation, seven or eight defensemen.
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The question of where second-year center Kevin Hayes fits affects many of the forwards.
"At center last game, I'm not sure that was one of his better performances," said Vigneault. "I think he knows he's got to be better than he was in the game against Philly. You can say it's just exhibition but it's our job to evaluate and we'll give him another game in the middle, but that option of playing him on the wing is there. In the next week or something, we'll sort that out. He's going to be on our team: The line that he's on, and the ice time that he gets is going to depend on how he plays, and that's not just Kevin Hayes, that's with everyone on the team. I've got a lot of faith in this young man."
Derick Brassard and Derek Stepan are set as the top two centers, veterans Jarret Stoll and Dom Moore are certainly capable and rookie Oscar Lindberg has made a strong case to stick either in the middle or on the wing.
"That's the questions we need to answer, if we keep Kevin there, who plays in the middle, who can play the wing on what line, where does [Viktor] Stalberg fit in, where does [Emerson] Etem fit in?"
Vigneault praised Stalberg, who was signed as a free agent from Nashville. "He's one of the guys I really like: I played him back-to-back and he showed a lot of speed, good hockey sense, he finished every check; he's got some good versatility, can play right and left side."
On the other hand, asked if Tanner Glass is locked into a spot, Vigneault responded: "No. I look at our team, I've got 15-16 forwards that I really like so far, some other guys are younger, and at some point they might get there and we're going to keep 13. We all know the skill set that he brings, we don't have a lot of that, but does skill and speed trump that moving forward? We've got four games to answer that."
Henrik Lundqvist will play two periods in goal against Boston, and rookie Jeff Malcolm one. Lundqvist also will play two periods in New Jersey on Saturday, and one of the final two preseason games, Vigneault said.
Back on the ice
Mats Zuccarello will play after being sidelined since April 24 with a skull fracture.
"I just want him to go out and have fun," Vigneault said. "With Brass and Rick [Nash], he should feel comfortable with those two keep their shifts on the ice short, high percentage. It's his first game in a while, after everyone knows how serious an injury he had. He's got to be real excited."
Vigneault said he knew during the summer that Zuccarello was progressing in his recovery. "We got a couple emails during the summer, there was one in early, mid-July, that he was back on track. At that time, we knew he was going to be fine. Him, Dan [Girardi], Ryan [McDonagh], Marc [Staal] tested on the ice [Tuesday], they're all better than last year, so that was a positive sign."
Lineup vs. Boston
Nash - Brassard - Zuccarello
Gibbons - Hayes - Etem
Glass - Stoll - Lindberg
Hrivik - Tambellini - Bourque
McDonagh - Bellemore
Skjei - Boyle
Yandle - Hughes