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Rangers mailbag: Lineups, Jimmy Vesey, early-season grades and more

Jimmy Vesey of the New York Rangers celebrates

Jimmy Vesey of the New York Rangers celebrates his third-period goal against the San Jose Sharks with teammates Derek Stepan and Mats Zuccarello at Madison Square Garden on Monday, Oct. 17, 2016. Credit: Jim McIsaac

With their comeback 5-3 victory over the Edmonton Oilers on Thursday, the Rangers have busted out of the gate with an 8-3 mark and are headed for a rematch with the Bruins in Boston on Saturday. Here’s a collection of some this week’s questions that Newsday’s Steve Zipay answers from his Twitter followers:

@ericsagedean: Just 4 fun: If you had to give a 10-game report card, which Rangers get A’s?

Zipay: Let’s make it 11. I’m traditionally a tough grader, but it’s tough to not spread the high marks around, especially among the forwards: Jimmy Vesey, Rick Nash, Chris Kreider, J.T. Miller, Kevin Hayes, Mika Zibanejad, Mats Zuccarello and former Islander Michael Grabner have exceeded expectations, so they’re As. On defense, no question, Ryan McDonagh deserves an A. Pencil in the others, including Derek Stepan as an incomplete

@msilvers1979: Many fans are clamoring for a D upgrade. I say unless you’re desperate you at least wait until the trade deadline. Agree?

Zipay: A long-term injury to McDonagh — clearly their best blueliner — could move the timetable up, but I’d give the team until the 40-game mark, unless the price for Winnipeg’s Jacob Trouba comes way down by Dec. 1. Nick Holden may eventually be usurped on the top four by Brady Skjei. The Blues’ Kevin Shattenkirk is still on the radar. The market isn’t a cakewalk: Everybody wants a top-four defenseman, so the ask is high. I wonder if Kevin Klein, with another year at a reasonable $2.9 million salary cap hit, would be tantalizing bait, with a prospect and a draft pick.

@nycwebs90: If team keeps winning, do NYR stick with the forward depth formula, or trade a bit for a top 4 D-man?

Zipay: In the last five years, I haven’t seen this much depth and speed up front, but injuries are going to happen, so general manager Jeff Gorton has to be careful. It depends on how they win the games, who’s available, what happens with other teams, who may be slumping or have injuries. Remember, Adam Clendening is their spare, and Ryan Graves, John Gilmour and Dylan McIlrath are in Hartford in an emergency.

@VinnyV73: Steve, what do you think the Rangers still need to add to get them to win a Cup?

Zipay: So many factors go into winning a Stanley Cup. A team, especially its goalies and special teams, has to be playing well going into the playoffs, not burdened by injuries, and have some puck luck. The chemistry is pretty darn good so far and Thursday’s win showed they have a finishing kick in the third period, which is a good sign. Another top defenseman who can provide both offense and defense would go a long way to the silver, but they are not, repeat, not easy to come by.

@The_KZB: You are tempering your expectations for the #NYR, right?

Zipay: If you saw my season predictions, which are always a dart board given that there’s 82 games and that this club is changing on the fly, I estimated a third-place finish in the Metro Division. They’ve beaten some teams considered contenders, so that seems like a pretty safe guess so far. It will be interesting to see how these fellows fare against Montreal, Pittsburgh, Chicago, Tampa again, etc. Anyway, it’s the playoffs that count. The season is really a long but tasty appetizer.

@dcahalane23: Re: Roster/Lineup decisions (e.g. Clendening). Are those AV or organizational decisions? I’m tired of all AV bashing!

Zipay: Coach-bashing is an annual rite, like paying income taxes. Vigneault consults with coaches and Gorton daily, but the final call on the lineup is his. When the team is winning, he rarely changes the 18 skaters. The roster is another story: That’s Gorton’s territory, along with managing the salary cap. He gives Vigneault the cards to play with. Did pretty well this offseason, no?

@blueshirtbuddha: Hey Zip. Are you surprised by the play of Jimmy Vesey so far?

Zipay: Who isn’t? I didn’t follow him at Harvard — who has the time? Some predicted 20 goals, based on analytics of college-entry players. But you can see why there was so much interest. He’s very competitive, poised and has made a surprisingly smooth transition. He may not have a heavy shot or be the fastest skater but he finds the seams and can finish. Can’t teach that. And his entry-level salary is making other front offices drool.

@cwgMTK: I hope Vesey can keep it up. I notice he often goes to net with his head down...have you noticed this?

Zipay: Noticed it, and he may get clocked if his noggin isn’t on a swivel more often than not. But he’s focused and taken his fair share of hits (paging Radko Gudas) and his size helps. He’s aware that the NHL is another animal than college. Told me recently that the goalies are certainly miles ahead. Not a tremendous revelation, but still.

@davidharsanyi: With four lines of scoring depth, is it possible Rangers will look to trade Kevin Hayes in deal for Jacob Trouba or Cam Fowler?

Zipay: Forget Hayes, who is more determined and really changed his career path with extra work over the summer, and the arrow is pointing up. He’s not going anywhere this season. No better judges than Vigneault, or Henrik Lundqvist, who said this post-game on Thursday. “He’s taken his game to another level…he reminds me a little bit of how [Jaromir] Jagr uses his body holding onto pucks and almost standing still making plays.” A little hyperbole, sure. Plus, he helped recruit Vesey.

@gordtep: In ‘17 expansion draft, would Las Vegas be more likely to take Nash, Fast, or Raanta? (I don’t want to lose any of them.)

Zipay: @NoParty2016 had a similar query, and with all due respect, it’s far too early to be definitive on this. There could be trades, buyouts, and it all depends on what’s available to Vegas. Here’s what I know about the draft, though the rules still are not entirely set. Teams can keep seven forwards, three defensemen and a goaltender. Teams have to protect players with no-move clauses. In the Rangers’ case, that’s Lundqvist, Stepan, Staal, Girardi. Players such as Vesey, Buchnevich and Skjei aren’t draft eligible. They have to expose two forwards, possibly Fast, and a defenseman, who’ve played 40 of more games this year or 70 in last two, and a goalie. They’ll keep McDonagh, of course, and presumably Zibanejad, Kreider, Miller, Hayes and Zuccarello. Raanta will have to be exposed, but there will be No. 1 goalies available for Vegas. Klein or Nick Holden might be exposed. Nash is certainly a possibility. A trade deadline rental is a possibility. But let’s enjoy this season first, OK?

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