With Harvard’s Jimmy Vesey in the fold, are the Rangers set for opening night in October and beyond?
Doubtful. Over a grinding season, no NHL lineup, or roster, remains the same.
But the Rangers surely will be younger this season, with depth at forward, and perhaps some room to upgrade their defense in the months ahead.
“As we close in on camp, I don’t know what’s next, any kind of moves or anything like that,” general manager Jeff Gorton said Friday. “But we’re happy. We think we have a lot of good players. We think we have some good youth and this [signing Vesey to an affordable two-year contract] really helps that.
“Satisfied? No. I don’t think anybody in our organization is satisfied.”
No one should be. The team sagged in the second half of last season and looked stale at times. The five-game loss to the Penguins in the opening round of the playoffs was a harsh wake-up call.
Defenseman Keith Yandle, unaffordable with veterans having no-move clauses in a tough climate for trades, signed with Florida and will be missed. But Dan Boyle (40), Dominic Moore (36) and Viktor Stalberg (30) weren’t re-signed, leaving only five players 31 or over (Henrik Lundqvist, Rick Nash, Dan Girardi, Kevin Klein and Tanner Glass) on the current roster.
Gorton also shipped Derick Brassard (29 next month) to Ottawa for center Mika Zibanejad (23) as part of the youth movement. He joins Vesey (23), defenseman Brady Skjei (22) — the team’s last first-round draft pick (2012), who played well late last season — and talented rookie Russian winger Pavel Buchnevich (21).
Gorton also worked out multiyear deals with restricted free-agent forwards Chris Kreider (25), J.T. Miller (23) and Kevin Hayes (24). “We’re trying to get as many young players as we can,” he said. “The game is getting faster and younger and more skilled all the time, and we’re certainly in tune with that.”
Where does Vesey fit? “He’s got an ability to score. He can make plays,” Gorton said. “Where, what number, what line, I wouldn’t want to go down that road and say yet . . . I think he’s going to come into training camp and do his best to try to fit in as high as he can in our lineup.”
Nash can play the left or right side, so one initial top-line option could be Kreider-Derek Stepan-Nash, with Miller-Zibanejad-Mats Zuccarello on the second trio. It makes some sense to put Vesey with Hayes, a long-time friend with whom he trains in the offseason, and perhaps Buchnevich.
Much depends on how Vesey, 6-2 and 205 pounds, adjusts to a much higher level, the longer schedule and the pace of the pros. Based on history, statistician/analyst Rob Vollman, who writes for ESPN and NHL.com, projects 30 points as a likely target for Vesey’s first season.
Oscar Lindberg will miss camp after offseason hip surgery, so free agent, Josh Jooris, initially will see time centering a fourth line, presumably with a mix of Michael Grabner, Jesper Fast and Nathan Gerbe.
The Rangers currently have about $2.5 million in space under the $73-million salary cap, although that includes Glass ($1.45 million and on the bubble) and Lindberg ($650,000), who could be placed on long-term injured reserve.
On defense, the Rangers could start with Ryan McDonagh, Marc Staal, Girardi, Klein, Skjei, Nick Holden and Dylan McIlrath. The Rangers could deal for another experienced defenseman, and Anaheim currently has ample blueliners. St. Louis’ Kevin Shattenkirk remains a possibility.
The only thing certain is that much-needed change already has come to Broadway.