GREENBURGH — Rangers general manager Jeff Gorton isn’t out of the market for another center, but he wants to let training camp play out first.
The Rangers upgraded the defense this summer but there are unanswered questions in the middle, and Gorton — whose track record is proof that he is unafraid to deal — left the door ajar for outside help.
“It’s fair to say we’re always looking,” he said yesterday on the second day of training camp. “It’s a hard position [finding one]; we’re not the only team looking. I’d like to think some of the guys here can do the job.”
With former No. 1 center Derek Stepan sent to the Arizona Coyotes, Mika Zibanejad and Kevin Hayes are poised to move up a slot as the No. 1 and No. 2 pivots. J.T. Miller, who was drafted as a center in 2011 but has played much of his pro career on the wing, is ticketed to start as a center during the preseason.
“We’re comfortable with J.T. We know he can play all three [forward] positions,” Gorton said. “But we’ll always look to get deeper. Right now, it’s all on paper. Our focus is seeing what these guys can do.”
“It’s a responsibility I’m willing to take on,” said Miller, 24. “I think they know that. I’ve proved I can play there before. I think we’re going to feel that out and see where it fits.”
Miller has changed since his rookie season at 19. “I want to be more of a leader and lead by example and be a consistent 82-game player,” he said. “I think I can do that and I think it’s time I stepped up a little bit more in that category.”
With Oscar Lindberg selected by Las Vegas in the expansion draft, the fourth-line center candidates include Lias Andersson, the seventh selection in the June draft; David Desharnais, 31, a free agent who played in Montreal for seven years, and Cristoval “Boo’’ Nieves, who played in the AHL last season.
“We like him a lot,” Gorton said of Andersson. “He’s a real character player, has the passion to be really good, but he’s 18, and it’s unfair to put too much expectations on him.”
Kreider takes a fall. The first scare of Rangers camp came in Chris Kreider’s first heat in skating tests on Friday. He was speeding around a small orange cone, racing the clock, and lost his edge. Kreider slammed into the side boards legs first, rolled over and stayed down for a minute as coaches came over. It was reminiscent of Derek Stepan’s damaging spill in camp in 2014, when he broke his fibula, and the awkward crash in which Mika Zibanejad broke his left leg last November against the Florida Panthers. After skating gingerly to center ice, Kreider, 26, began a second heat a few minutes later but cut that short and headed off ice to the trainer’s room. Soon after that, the team announced that he was fine. Kreider, the team’s top-line left wing, had 28 goals and 53 points last season.