GREENBURGH, N.Y. - After the Stanley Cup Final, Rangers coach Alain Vigneault insisted that teams need an annual infusion of youth in the fall to compete in the spring. "Just look at the Kings," Vigneault said, referring to the Cup champs.
As it stands, with center Derek Stepan (fractured fibula) placed on long-term injured reserve yesterday, the Rangers will have three or four young forwards on their opening-night roster: Anthony Duclair, 19; J.T Miller, 21; Jesper Fast, 22, and possibly Kevin Hayes, 22, a free agent out of Boston College who dinged his shoulder against Chicago on Friday and could go on injured reserve.
"It's an amazing feeling," said Duclair, who had 50 goals and 99 points with the junior Quebec Remparts last season. "My goal was to stay here as long as possible, maybe get a few preseason games. The first few games, I have to make a good impression to stay. The real work starts now."
Duclair, nicknamed "The Duke," is the first Rangers player to make the jump from junior hockey since defenseman Michael Del Zotto in 2009.
"As long as you can prove you can play in our top nine, you'll stay," Vigneault said he told Duclair. "He's earned the right to start with us. He's got an NHL skill set: the hands, the speed, the thinking with the puck. Can that continue when the season starts?"
Miller and Fast made the cut last October but traveled back and forth to Hartford. This time they will understand what it takes to stay in New York.
"J.T. has had a very good camp," Vigneault said, "other than one game, where I thought he was average. He's a little like 'The Duke'; he's got to prove he can play in our top nine [either at center or wing]."
Fast, Vigneault said, "has been one of our most consistent players . . . When he's on the ice, coaches and management have a lot of trust that he's going to do the right thing."
Notes & quotes: The centers, if Monday's practice is any indication, are Martin St. Louis, Derick Brassard, Miller and Dominic Moore.