GREENBURGH, N.Y. — The Rangers cut their training camp roster down to their final 23 Friday, with the biggest surprise being that Lias Andersson, the No. 7 overall pick in the 2017 NHL draft, was sent to the Rangers’ AHL affiliate in Hartford. Brett Howden, a first-round pick by the Tampa Bay Lightning in 2016 who was acquired in the Ryan McDonagh-J.T. Miller deal at last season’s trade deadline, made the team.
“I think at this point, when we looked at Lias, what’s best for him is to play, and not be on the fourth line,’’ Rangers general manager Jeff Gorton said. “We went through a number of different scenarios about whether we should keep him and play him on the fourth line [or] should we move him to wing? The more we talked about it, the more [clear it became], to me; as a 19-year-old, he needs to play. He needs to play 20 minutes [per game]; he needs to play on the power play — he needs to be developing. We just felt, talking in the group, that the best situation for him right now is to just be in Hartford.’’
With Andersson gone, Howden, 20, will be the fourth-line center. He’s only seven months older than Andersson, but Gorton said he was a better penalty-killer than Andersson and the team “could see him [getting more ice time than] we would be able to give Lias right now.’’
Howden, a 6-2, 195-pounder from Calgary who scored his first professional goal Thursday in the Rangers’ 4-2 victory over the Flyers in Philadelphia in the final game of the preseason, admitted he was anxious after the game, knowing the cuts were coming Friday.
“It was a long night last night,’’ he said. “It was tough to get to sleep, but I came in here this morning and it was really exciting.’’
Howden was asked if he knows where he’s going to live now that he’s made the team.
“I don’t know,’’ he said with a laugh. “I haven’t even thought that far yet. I just found out this morning that I made the team. I just had practice, and I don’t know, really, where to go from here. I’m just kind of taking it, I don’t know, hour by hour right now.’’
Long Island’s Rob O’Gara, who had finished last season with the Rangers after being acquired in the trade that sent defenseman Nick Holden to Boston shortly before the deadline, also was sent to Hartford. O’Gara, 25, appeared in the first preseason game, a 4-3 overtime win over the Devils in Newark, and the last game, during which he played 22 minutes, 40 seconds and was credited with two shots on goal, two hits, and five blocked shots.
“I would have loved to [have played in more games], but that’s not one of the things I could control,’’ O’Gara said after the game Thursday night. “Coach said from the beginning practices are just as important during camp, so I tried to work as hard as I could during camp.’’
Joining Andersson and O’Gara in being sent to Hartford were forwards Steven Fogarty, Michael Lindqvist, Ville Meskanen, and 20-year-old defensemen Libor Hajek and Ryan Lindgren. Defenseman Chris Bigras, forwards Peter Holland and Cole Schneider, and goaltenders Marek Mazanec and Dustin Tokarski were placed on waivers and will be assigned to Hartford if they clear waivers.
Mazanec and Tokarski going down means 22-year-old Alexandar Georgiev won the backup job behind Henrik Lundqvist. Gorton said Georgiev is a young player and will need to play games, so it’s possible if Lundqvist is playing a lot and Georgiev isn’t playing enough, he could go down to Hartford just to get some work.
Twenty-six players remain on the roster: forwards Pavel Buchnevich, Filip Chytil, Jesper Fast, Kevin Hayes, Howden, Chris Kreider, Vinni Lettieri, Cody McLeod, Vlad Namestnikov, Ryan Spooner, Jimmy Vesey, Mika Zibanejad and Mats Zuccarello; defensemen Fredrik Claesson, Anthony DeAngelo, Adam McQuaid, Neal Pionk, Kevin Shattenkirk, Brady Skjei, Brendan Smith and Marc Staal; and goalies Lundqvist and Georgiev.
Lettieri, 23, played in five of the six preseason games, but both Gorton and coach David Quinn said the 5-11, 191-pound winger made the team in the final week of camp, when he scored two goals in three games — including the overtime winner in Monday’s victory over the Devils — and played with tremendous energy.
“I think it’s fair to say he was right on the bubble,’’ Gorton said of Lettieri. “We talked to him about a week ago about stepping up and doing some things, and I think he’s played better over the last few games, and certainly earned the right to be here.’’
Three players, forwards Boo Nieves (concussion), Matt Beleskey (separated shoulder) and defenseman Brandon Crawley (undisclosed) are injured and were not moved.