It was the first day of training camp for the Rangers, and Henrik Lundqvist was in a great mood. And why wouldn’t he be? He loves this time of year.
“I’m excited to be back here at the training center, back in New York,’’ the now 36-year-old goalie told reporters after the first practice of the season on Saturday. “I had a great summer in Sweden — I enjoyed the weather, my friends, family — but it’s this time of year where you really start to focus on what’s ahead and the new season, new challenge. And it’s just great to see everyone.
“Obviously, there’s some new faces here, as well — the coaching staff, a couple new players — but camp is always fun,’’ he said. “Of all the camps I’ve done, it’s always the same feeling: You’re anxious to get going, a little nervous, excited. It feels really good to be here.’’
Anyone wondering whether the oldest and longest-tenured player in the organization was fully on board with the Rangers’ plan to step back and rebuild can stop worrying, Lundqvist said. He is happy to stick around throughout the entire process.
“Yeah,’’ he said. “Again, people talk about ‘rebuild,’ and nobody knows how long of a project that is. But if you focus on the start, we’ll see how we stack up and we’ll try and do as good as we can. But yeah, there’s no other place I want to be.’’
New coach David Quinn was convinced Lundqvist was on board with the rebuilding strategy after he traveled to Sweden over the summer to meet with Lundqvist and forwards Mika Zibanejad and Jesper Fast. One look at Lundqvist’s lean, 6-1, 180-pound body told the coach all he needed to know.
“Just the shape he’s in certainly tells you that he’s all in,’’ Quinn said. “Obviously, I had a pretty good idea of where he was, once I took the job. He was always part of the conversations. So I had a good idea that he was all in and wanted to stay here and wanted to finish his career here and wanted to be part of the next wave of success.’’
Lundqvist, who had been visibly frustrated by all the losing in last year’s 34-39-9 season, had talked at the end of it about how this season would need to be about winning. Saturday, though, he stayed away from making any bold statements about his expectations for the team.
“You can feel we started over, a little bit, with the new system, new coaching staff and little different mentality,’’ he said. “I don’t think we should look too far. We need to get a good camp, a good start, and build off of that, and then see how far that takes us. And that’s going to tell us how we’ll stack up against other teams. But I’m not going to sit here and predict, or say this and that. I think the focus here is just to start. We do have a lot of skill in the room, I see that. A lot of hungry players. So that’s a great combination.’’
Physically, Lundqvist said he’s in a much better place than he was last year, when his summer training routine was thrown off by a knee injury suffered playing for Sweden in the World Championships. Whether that was a factor or not, Lundqvist ended up with the fewest victories (26) in any season of his career last season, as well as the highest goals-against average of his career (2.98). This summer, he skipped the World Championships and had a platelet-rich plasma injection in the knee right after the season ended. After a few weeks off, he was able to skate as much as he wanted.
“Now, it’s back to where it needs to be, and I feel great,’’ he said of his knee. “Right now, there’s nothing really bothering me. I can go 100 percent. And that’s a good feeling.’’