Derek Stepan tries to carry the puck up ice against...

Derek Stepan tries to carry the puck up ice against R.J. Umberger #18 of the Columbus Blue Jackets during a game at Madison Square Garden. (Dec. 12, 2013) Credit: Jim McIsaac

After Saturday's 3-0 loss to the Devils in the preseason finale, in which few players competing for jobs stood out, Sunday will be a day of roster reckoning for the cap-strapped Rangers brass.

"I'm leaning toward right now putting Step [Derek Stepan] on long-term [injured reserve] and keeping 14 [forwards] to sort this out," coach Alain Vigneault said, "but I've got to talk with Glen [Sather] and Jeff [Gorton] and the rest of the coaches."

If Stepan, who broke his left fibula during drills on Sept. 24 and is expected to miss four to six weeks, is put on LTIR, the Rangers could use his $3.05 million in cap space to fill out the roster until he returns.

If the doctors believe can return sooner than missing the 10 games required by LTIR, "then we can only keep 12 forwards . . . We've got issues in the middle right now," Vigneault said.

He suggested that if Stepan is not placed on LTIR, he could be back for Game 7 of the regular season. "I know he had another X-ray taken, but I didn't ask how it was coming,'' he said, "so I'm going to find out sometime tonight or tomorrow."

Compliant rosters have to be filed with the league by 5 p.m. Tuesday. Cuts will be announced Monday.

The following forwards are locks: Derick Brassard, Rick Nash, Martin St. Louis, Chris Kreider, Mats Zuccarello, Carl Hagelin, Dominic Moore, Tanner Glass, J.T. Miller, Ryan Malone and Lee Stempniak.

That would leave openings for only one player if they can fit only 12 forwards, but with Stepan on LTIR, they could add two or three others -- most likely players who can play center or wing -- and squeeze under the $69-million cap.

With 12 forwards, St. Louis might have to play center at some point.

The candidates if the roster goes to 14 forwards (with seven defensemen) appear to be Kevin Hayes, Oscar Lindberg, Chris Mueller, Matthew Lombardi, Jesper Fast and Anthony Duclair.

Duclair, 19, could be kept for a maximum of nine games, then returned to his junior team. But the club also would have to move one of the 50 players in the system under contract. "If we want him to stay, we're going to find a way to make it happen," Vigneault said.

As for the 3-0 loss, which ended the Rangers' preseason at 3-3 and didn't really resolve any of the pending issues, Vigneault said: "I thought we played well for 19 minutes, but after they got that first goal, I didn't see us getting any rhythm or momentum offensively. You know what it was like? The last game of exhibition."

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