New York Rangers head coach John Tortorella, standing right, congratulates...

New York Rangers head coach John Tortorella, standing right, congratulates Brandon Dubinsky (17) on his first-period goal against the Tampa Bay Lightning. (April 2, 2010) Credit: AP Photo/Chris O'Meara

For Rangers in the hunt for jobs, Saturday night's game in Newark and Sunday's game in Detroit are not necessarily elimination games, but darned close.

The NHL's waiver period begins this weekend, and after Friday's re-assignments of 25 players to junior teams or the Hartford Wolf Pack, 38 players remain in camp. Coach John Tortorella must trim 15 more.

One will be easy: goalie Chad Johnson is destined for Hartford. Henrik Lundqvist, who will start Saturday against the Devils, and Martin Biron are locked in.

"There are going to be some tough decisions," Tortorella said. With an excess of players with NHL experience, a trade seems likely.

At center, there are seven candidates for, at most, five spots.

Rookie Derek Stepan has made a case to stick for opening night and beyond. With his entry-level contract, he can be assigned to Hartford and recalled without being claimed on waivers.

Artem Anisimov has nothing else to prove in the AHL, but incumbent Erik Christensen needs to raise his game. Brian Boyle played an intense, physical game against the Devils. Tortorella likes former Sabre Tim Kennedy, who is small and quick.

Todd White, 35, acquired from Atlanta and rehabbing from shoulder surgery, would be a veteran presence, but a costly one at $2.3 million, which seems to preclude him from a fourth-line role. And Chris Drury, on the mend with a broken left index finger, should return soon after the Oct. 9 opener.

Beyond Marian Gaborik and Ryan Callahan, there are gaps at right wing. Brandon Prust appears to have an edge on Dale Weise, and unless Mats Zuccarello craters, another spot may be his. Alex Frolov (1-2-3 on Thursday), is the No. 1 left wing, followed by Brandon Dubinsky and Vinny Prospal, each of whom can move to the middle. Sean Avery has to survive a push from Ruslan Fedotenko. Enforcer Derek Boogaard, who has dropped 25 pounds, is being hounded to improve his skating and conditioning, and will stick as a 13th forward.

On defense, Wade Redden is weighed down by a $6.5-million salary, and his days might be numbered. Marc Staal, Dan Girardi, Michael Del Zotto and Michal Rozsival are in, leaving Matt Gilroy, Alexei Semenov and Garnet Exelby, rookie Ryan McDonagh, ex-Duck Steve Eminger and Pavel Valentenko vying for two or three spots.

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