GREENBURGH, N.Y. - With final preseason games against the Blackhawks on Friday night and the Devils on Saturday, it's crunch time for Rangers prospects on the bubble and a couple of veterans.
Several spots remain up for grabs -- a center, a seventh defenseman, one or two forwards -- before cap-compliant rosters with a 23-player maximum are submitted to the NHL by 5 p.m. Tuesday.
On Friday night, right wing Martin St. Louis will make his Rangers debut as a center, subbing for Derek Stepan, who broke his fibula Sept. 24 and is out four to six weeks.
A key financial and personnel decision for the front office is whether to place Stepan on long-term injured reserve, which would temporarily free $3.05 million in salary-cap space and allow for 13, not 12, healthy forwards.
On long-term reserve, Stepan would be ineligible for 10 games, into early November. But if doctors believe he can return in five weeks, he would miss only seven games. During that time, though, the cap-strapped Rangers would carry only a dozen healthy forwards.
Anthony Duclair, the 19-year-old wing who has impressed the organization and appears to have secured a spot for at least a few regular-season games, will play his fourth consecutive match Friday night after scoring in each of the previous three.
Duclair can play a maximum of nine games before he must either be kept or returned to his junior team, the Quebec Remparts. At 19, he is ineligible to play in the AHL.
Centers J.T. Miller and Kevin Hayes and right wing Jesper Fast also will play in a veteran-dominated lineup that includes Henrik Lundqvist, Rick Nash, Derick Brassard, Ryan Malone and the team's top four defensemen. Defensemen Michael Kostka and Matt Hunwick, signed in the offseason and challenging for the spare job, will dress.
Coach Alain Vigneault said five or six players, whom he did not identify, will dress for both games. Center Matt Lombardi (groin) skated in half of yesterday's practice and expects to practice Friday. If all goes well, Vigneault said, Lombardi will play Saturday; if not, he will have a tough time making the opening-night roster.