GREENBURGH, N.Y. — Goalie Ondrej Pavelec, acquired as a free agent from the Winnipeg Jets to back up Henrik Lundqvist after Antti Raanta was traded to Arizona, will make his first start for the Rangers at Madison Square Garden in Monday’s preseason game against the Islanders.
Coach Alain Vigneault said Pavelec, a 30-year-old Czech native who spent his entire 10-year career with the Atlanta/Winnipeg franchise, will split the preseason opener with Brandon Halverson.
Pavelec had a disappointing 2016-17 season, during which he played just eight NHL games, was injured, and played 18 games in the minors. The experience, he said, “was tough, I didn’t expect it. But it’s behind me. It’s a new start.”
He chose the Rangers offer (a one-year contract worth $1.3 million) quickly on July 1 over two other teams because of the high-quality roster and the opportunity to play in New York.
“I think we’ve got talent, some great veterans and some young guys,” Pavelec said. “And it’s the Rangers, a lot of history behind it, the goalie coach [Benoit Allaire], who is well-respected, and Hank [Henrik Lundqvist]. That’s an opportunity to learn something.”
Pavelec said he visits Manhattan “a lot in the offseason; I just like the energy in the city,” where his go-to spot is the Meatpacking District, noted for its restaurants, art and nightlife.
Andersson gets chance to impress
Center Lias Andersson, the No. 7 overall pick in the June draft, will make his NHL debut Monday. The 18-year-old practiced Sunday between Pavel Buchnevich and Michael Grabner. “Andersson’s got a lot of drive, has a good set of hands, made some good plays when we were working on the power play,” said Vigneault.
The other lines: J.T. Miller centered a line with Paul Carey and Rick Nash, Cristoval Nieves was between Bobby Farnham and Vinny Lettieri and Gabriel Fontaine centered Andrew Desjardins and Cole Schneider. The defense pairs will be: Ryan McDonagh-Neal Pionk, Nick Holden-Tony D’Angelo and Steven Kampfer-Ryan Graves.
On the power play, D’Angelo, 21, who arrived from Arizona in the Derek Stepan / Raanta trade, showed that he could quickly maneuver and handle the puck at the right point. But those who saw him with the Coyotes noted that he needs to improve defensively.
The Rangers’ other first-round pick (21st overall), center Filip Chytil (pronounced HEET-ul) practiced for the first time after being sidelined with a groin injury. “He’s big and smooth and strong; very impressed by his skating ability. Hopefully, he reacts well to his first practice and in the next couple of days, we’ll be able to also get him in a game,” Vigneault said.
Smith helps teammates
Gritty defenseman Brendan Smith, the former Red Wing acquired at the trade deadline who signed a four-year contract to return to New York, was instructing defense prospects John Gilmour and Brandon Crawley during breaks on the ice.
“I like studying the system, it was hard to learn, but now maybe I can help some of those guys,” Smith said. “Everybody can be a leader. Guys here know that I’m a vocal guy and I’ve got their back and I can definitely help in that area, and maybe help young guys come along.”
Captain Ryan McDonagh, who knows Smith from the University of Wisconsin, said Sunday: “He’s always such a competitor and not afraid to speak his emotions; when he joined our group last season, there was a burst of energy.”
First cuts in camp
The first camp cuts/reassignments will come Tuesday. “Probably after the first game, we’ll send a couple players back to juniors,” Vigneault said. “Since we’ve got six games in eight days, I’m going to keep around two teams so that we can have a playing group and a good practice session.”