There weren’t many roster spots available to be won when the Rangers opened training camp, and with Saturday’s 5-3 loss to the Islanders at UBS Arena being the fourth of six preseason games, the time to make the call on who will win those few spots is coming soon.
There’s no suspense as to which two goalies will dress for the season opener Oct. 12 in Buffalo — Jonathan Quick almost certainly will be Igor Shesterkin’s backup against the Sabres.
Barring injury, the top 11 forwards and five defensemen seem pretty set.
Assuming the Rangers keep a 22-man roster in order to bank salary-cap space and allow for flexibility at the trade deadline, that leaves openings for a 12th and 13th forward and a sixth and seventh defenseman.
Tyler Pitlick drew praise Friday from coach Peter Laviolette for his performance in Tuesday’s 4-2 win over the Islanders. (“He was kind of a bull in a china shop, just plowing forward and banging bodies and winning battles,’’ the coach said.) He likely will be the 12th forward. And Erik Gustafsson, who played for Laviolette last season in Washington and has drawn praise from the coach, seems the leader in the battle to be the sixth defenseman.
Zac Jones, who would have to clear waivers if the team opted to send him to AHL Hartford, probably will be the seventh unless he beats Gustafsson out or is traded.
As for the final forward spot, a few players clearly have caught the coach’s eye.
Jonny Brodzinski, a frequent call-up from Hartford the previous two seasons, was in the lineup Saturday, making him the only player to have played in all four games in the preseason. According to Laviolette, that’s a good thing.
“I thought he and his line [Thursday] night were excellent,’’ Laviolette said of Brodzinski, who had five shots on goal and was plus-2 in the 3-2 loss to the Devils that night. “They were the most noticeable line, they generated the most chances. It’s his speed, his tenacity . . . That’s a fourth look for him [Saturday], and those are earned, too. They’re not just given, they’re earned. And I think he’s played really well.’’
Brodzinski, 30, said he came into training camp with the belief that there was a spot available for him if he played well. Two competitors were removed Friday when veterans Riley Nash and Alex Belzile were placed on waivers.
“I think I can make this team out of camp,’’ Brodzinski said a few days ago. “I’ve been playing pretty well in this preseason and a couple of scrimmages . . . And they know that I can be that kind of role player that can chip in offensively.’’
Another who has impressed Laviolette is 6-7, 241-pound Matt Rempe, who fought Isles defenseman Scott Mayfield on Tuesday after Mayfield punched Vincent Trocheck while Trocheck was kneeling on the ice.
Rempe first caught his coach’s eye in the two rookie games the Rangers played against the Flyers two weeks ago.
“There’s a lot of things that I love about Matt,’’ Laviolette said. “You saw what he did the other night . . . Somebody punches one of his teammates in the head and he reacts, and that was a really positive thing for him and what he did for the team. But there’s more to it than that. Not all guys that play that type of role can finish checks and hit, and he can do that. He’s very physical. He’s still just a really young kid , but he’s an enormous man. And he’s only going to get stronger and better.’’
And then there are the young prospects, 21-year-old Will Cuylle and 20-year-old Brennan Othmann, each of whom scored Saturday night in the Rangers’ three-goal third period (for Othmann, it was his second straight game with a goal). Both players likely are ticketed for Hartford, but who knows?