The Rangers’ busy offseason is over, and the time has come to start the clock on the 2021-22 season, which will kick off Friday, when the Blueshirts open their annual prospect development camp at their Tarrytown, New York, practice facility.
Twenty-seven players will attend the development camp, headlined by 2018 first-round pick Nils Lundkvist, the Swedish Hockey League’s Borje Salming Award winner last season as the top Swedish-born defenseman in the league. Other notables attending include Zac Jones, the 2019 third-round pick who won a national championship with UMass in 2021 and then signed and played 10 games with the Rangers at the end of the season; 2019 second-round pick Matthew Robertson; 2020 first-rounder Braden Schneider, and 2021 first-rounder Brennan Othmann.
Jones, Robertson and Schneider are defensemen, making for a deep blue line corps entering training camp, which officially opens Sept. 23.
"We do have a lot of ‘D,’ including [Libor] Hajek, who we just signed, [Anthony] Bitetto, who's still here, all the 'D' that were here last year,’’ Rangers president and general manager Chris Drury said on a conference call Thursday with local media. "That's why you have training camp and tryout, and you know, you always hope your kids come back after an offseason and push for jobs.’’
Drury, speaking to the media for the first time since the NHL draft in late July, touched on a number of topics of interest in the offseason. On the issue of whether the Rangers will have a captain this season, after going without one since the deadline day trade of Ryan McDonagh to Tampa in 2018, Drury reiterated his previous position that "it’s an important piece for us, moving forward, to have a captain.’’ The organization will choose one after new coach Gerard Gallant gets to know the players better and the different options are sorted out, he said.
Adding so many tough, gritty players this summer — Drury traded for Barclay Goodrow of Stanley Cup champion Tampa Bay, Sammy Blais from 2019 champion St. Louis and veteran enforcer Ryan Reaves from Vegas — was something the organization had known for a long time it would have to do eventually, Drury said.
"We knew at some point, we were going to have to surround [our skill players] with some players that had experience, that had size, that had some grit [and] had won in different places,’’ he said.
Drury acknowledged the possibility that one of the Rangers’ top three left wings — Artemi Panarin, Chris Kreider and 2020 No. 1 pick overall Alexis Lafreniere — may switch to right wing in order to fit them all into the top two lines. And he said he decided not to bring forward Vitaly Kravtsov, the team’s first of three first-round picks in 2018, to development camp because he thought Kravtsov, who played in the KHL last season, would benefit more by skating with the team’s veterans in the voluntary, pre-camp practices.