With one preseason game to go, the question of which young players will start the season at forward for the Rangers became a little clearer. Will coach Alain Vigneault open with one or two 18-year-old centers? Will winger Vinny Lettieri crack the roster?
Vigneault, who had said that J.T. Miller, predominantly a winger, would begin the season in the middle, reversed course on Monday, and said the 24-year-old would be back on the flank because of the preseason play of several other candidates, including teenagers Lias Andersson and Filip Chytil.
First-round draft picks Andersson (seventh overall) and Chytil (21st overall) played against the Flyers at the Garden Monday night and are expected to dress in Philadelphia in the sixth and final preseason game on Tuesday.
“Chytil and Andersson definitely caught my attention with their skill set, their skating ability, their hockey smarts,” Vig neault said before the game. “We’ve got them slotted in for both games.”
Chytil looked better offensively as the game progressed, assisting on Ryan McDonagh’s goal with 1:09 left in overtime to give the Rangers a 3-2 win.
Andersson, playing on the fourth line, was concentrating on defense, blocking four shots. Chytil had a better winning percentage on faceoffs. Besides those two, Lettieri, a University of Minnesota graduate who played nine AHL games last season, had eight shot attempts by midway through the third.
In his pregame remarks, Vigneault mentioned those three and center David Desharnais, the former Canadien who appears to be a lock for a spot.
“With J.T. we wanted to give him a little bit more experience by starting him [at center],” Vig neault said. “But right now in my mind, with the performance of a few of our guys down the middle, J.T.’s going to start on the wing.”
Andersson and Chytil could play up to nine regular-season games before being returned to Europe without losing a season on their entry-level contracts. The Rangers will likely carry 13 forwards and wing Jesper Fast, who will be out until late October after hip surgery in June. Desjardins punished. Andrew Desjardins, who received a match penalty and was ejected in the first period of Saturday’s game for an illegal check to the head of Devils forward Miles Wood, was suspended Monday night for two preseason games. Desjardins, 31, who is on a tryout, played in just one other game, against the Islanders on Sept. 18. For purposes of evaluation, “it puts us in a tough spot,” Vigneault said.