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Rangers faced with tough roster decisions to make

Alain Vigneault, New York Rangers head coach, speaks

Alain Vigneault, New York Rangers head coach, speaks to the media at the Madison Square Garden Training Center in Greenburgh, N.Y. on Thursday, May 11, 2017. Photo Credit: James Escher

Anticipated decisions on which players will continue to practice with the Rangers for the next week before opening night against Colorado on Oct. 5 were delayed Wednesday, indicating that the final choices on a roster are tougher than head coach Alain Vigneault believed.

After a 4-3 overtime loss in the preseason finale in Philadelphia on Tuesday, Vigneault — who had watched the game from a suite with general manager Jeff Gorton and assistant general manager Chris Drury — said that the group would be pared to about 25 players.

Instead, only two of the 34 skaters, forward Gabriel Fontaine and goalie Brandon Halverson, who were among the logical choices to be re-assigned, were sent to Hartford on Wednesday. That left 20 forwards, 10 defenseman and goalies Henrik Lundqvist and Ondrej Pavelec in camp, as several more moves are expected Thursday.

The issues include whether the braintrust believes some younger players — such as 18-year-old centers Filip Chytil and Lias Andersson, who have a grace period of nine NHL games before being returned to Europe without penalty — should stick at least a little longer.

That pair, as well as young defensemen Neal Pionk and Ryan Graves, and forwards Vinny Lettieri and Boo Nieves — don’t have to clear waivers to be re-assigned. But forwards Paul Carey, Matt Puempel and defenseman Steven Kampfer would need to clear or potentially be lost to another team. Forwards Andrew Desjardins and Bobby Farnham remain on tryouts, although both could be released from that status soon.

Judging by comments from Vigneault in the past week, it’s possible the Blueshirts will eventually settle on 13 or 14 forwards (including Jesper Fast, whose return from hip surgery is expected in late October) and seven defensemen. When Fast returns, one forward presumably would be dispatched elsewhere.

If Gorton & Co. decide to keep at least one or two fresh-faced forwards, it likely will be between Czech native Chytil (pronounced Heet-ul), Lettieri, 22, from the University of Minnesota, Andersson, the Swede who was selected No. 7 overall in the June draft, or Nieves.

On the blue line, the top seven defensemen likely will be Ryan McDonagh, Kevin Shattenkirk, Brady Skjei, Brendan Smith, Marc Staal, Nick Holden and Tony DeAngelo, 21, who was acquired from Arizona in the Derek Stepan/Antti Raanta trade. Ten forwards are locks — Chris Kreider, Mika Zibanejad, Mats Zuccarello, Kevin Hayes, J.T. Miller, Rick Nash, Pavel Buchnevich, Jimmy Vesey, Michael Grabner and David Desharnais — currently leaving three spots open.

New York Sports