Training camp is wrapping up for the Rangers, and the 56-game regular season will begin on Thursday when they face the Islanders at Madison Square Garden.
Coach David Quinn changed up the schedule a bit and planned to run a "game scrimmage’’ Sunday night to get another look at the combinations he might use to start the season. Given that there are no preseason games, it’s the best he can do.
The good news for Quinn on Sunday was that his No. 1 center, Mika Zibanejad, was able to practice with the team for the first time after missing the first four days of practice for undisclosed reasons. Zibanejad took part in the morning session, working between his regular wingers, Chris Kreider and Pavel Buchnevich.
There was other promising news, too. It’s possible that on Sunday night, Quinn may have discovered a solution to the problem of figuring out a partner for defenseman Jacob Trouba: 20-year-old rookie K’Andre Miller.
Miller, the 2018 first-round pick who impressed Rangers brass with his strong performance in July’s return-to-play training camp and who has had a strong showing in this camp, partnered with Trouba in Sunday’s scrimmage. Quinn said he liked what he saw from the pair.
"I thought it was a very good pair,’’ he said. "I thought Trouba . . . was the best defenseman out there, and I thought by far . . . It was his best performance of training camp . . . Unfortunately, he missed three weeks of training before we came into camp . . . I thought tonight he was outstanding. I really liked that ‘D’ pair. They certainly take up a lot of space.’’
Trouba, 26, was acquired from Winnipeg in a trade in the summer of 2019 and was expected to be the team’s No. 1 defenseman, but he struggled to get comfortable in his new surroundings and was underwhelming at best in his first season.
His main partner from last season, Brady Skjei, was traded last February. As training camp began, Quinn tried to pair Trouba with Tony DeAngelo, a righthanded shooter who was switching to the left side to play with the righthanded-shooting Trouba. But Quinn broke up that pair after the team they played on in Thursday’s scrimmage lost, 6-1.
Quinn was effusive in his praise of Miller after Thursday’s scrimmage, and when asked that night if the 6-5, 210-pound defenseman from the University of Wisconsin is playing his way into the lineup, he said, "Yes, he is.’’
Miller is a lefthanded shooter, and on Sunday night, Quinn tried him with Trouba. The way the coach sounded afterward, it seems as though he might be willing to start those two together Thursday even though Miller never has played in a preseason game, let alone a real one.
"It’s one of the reasons why we wanted to see them together tonight, see what type of chemistry they had, see how they played off each other,’’ Quinn said. "They did a really good job tonight.’’
Second-year men Adam Fox and Ryan Lindgren, who partnered most of last season and who will be rooming together this season, are the most solid pair the Rangers have, and Quinn will keep them together.
DeAngelo was back on his natural right side Sunday night, partnering with lefthander Jack Johnson, whom the team signed as a free agent after trading DeAngelo’s old partner, Marc Staal, to Detroit in the offseason.
Libor Hajek, who played 28 games for the Rangers last season but spent the second half of the season in the AHL, skated alongside Trouba in the morning session Sunday. In the night session, he was with Brendan Smith.