The Rangers finalized their roster for the regular-season opener on Wednesday night in Chicago and will carry the maximum 23 players. But there is little wiggle room -- about $150,000 -- under the $71.4-million salary-cap ceiling, which general manager Jeff Gorton called "concerning."
Rookie Dylan McIlrath, 23, the team's first-round draft pick in 2010, made the cut as the seventh defenseman, and defenseman Raphael Diaz and forward Jayson Megna were placed on waivers. In a bit of a surprise, the front office decided to keep 14 forwards, not 13, as had been the plan sketched out to the media by coach Alain Vigneault.
"We need a little more time to figure out our situation," Gorton said Friday. "We'll let everybody dictate on the ice how it's going to play out. Right now, we're comfortable keeping everybody."
So the Rangers kept three players believed to be on the bubble, including McIlrath and forward Emerson Etem, who was acquired, along with a second-round draft pick, from Anaheim in a trade for Carl Hagelin. Both would have been subject to waivers and likely claimed. Fourth-line winger Tanner Glass, who is day-to-day with a foot injury, also remains on the roster.
"There's sort of been an evolution to his game. He's come a long way," Gorton said of McIlrath. "He's played really well. For us, a 6-foot-5 defenseman, the style that he plays, I think it's a big asset for us."
Etem's performance during training camp "was pretty average," Gorton said. "I think he knows that. We all know that. We've known him a long time; we like what we see. We think in time, he's going to show us that."
"You need young players to force your hand sometime," Vigneault said of McIlrath. "Diaz did everything we expected, he was very good on the power play, but when we discussed it, we felt that Dylan deserved to start here with us. Selfishly, we're hoping that Diaz will clear waivers."
If that happens Saturday, he will be assigned to the AHL with Megna.
"After the game Wednesday, I was kind of awaiting my fate," McIlrath said. "I figured I did the best I could do. Either way, I was happy with my camp." He added that he will need to work even harder to stay around.
Here's the roster: Goalies Henrik Lundqvist and Antti Raanta; defensemen Ryan McDonagh, Marc Staal, Dan Girardi, Kevin Klein, Keith Yandle, Dan Boyle and McIlrath, and forwards Derek Stepan, Chris Kreider, J.T. Miller, Rick Nash, Derick Brassard, Mats Zuccarello, Kevin Hayes, Jesper Fast, Jarret Stoll, Oscar Lindberg, Viktor Stalberg, Dominic Moore, Glass and Etem.