PHILADELPHIA — The first few rounds of cuts have been made by the Rangers and, after Saturday’s 4-1 loss to the Flyers at Wells Fargo Center, half of the preseason schedule has been completed. With defenseman Tony DeAngelo having agreed to a one-year contract Friday, the team is whole. Now the time has come to start the process of figuring out just who will be on the roster when the Rangers open the season Oct. 3 at home against the Winnipeg Jets.
Rangers coach David Quinn was asked if he’s getting close to picking his final 23. “I think we are, at this point in time with training camp,’’ he said. “I think we’re closing in on it. I don’t think we’re quite there yet. We’ve still got a few more . . . exhibition games to go, so we need the bodies here to play games and we will still want to evaluate people. And like I said when the training camp started, I think you would be hard-pressed to find a camp with more opportunity than ours. We want to give people plenty of opportunity.’’
Vitali Kravtsov, 19, the first of the Rangers’ three first-round picks in 2018, was one of those who got an opportunity in Saturday’s game. So did Greg McKegg, 27, an under-the-radar free agent signing who has quickly become one of Quinn’s favorites.
In the Rangers’ first preseason game on Wednesday against the Devils, McKegg was on the second power play unit, and when the Rangers were within a goal and pulled goalie Igor Shesterkin, Quinn sent McKegg onto the ice as the extra skater.
“I’ve liked everything I’ve seen about him,’’ Quinn said Friday. “Very coachable, works hard. Pays attention to detail. And we thought he was a good guy to have around the net, hounding pucks, pick up loose pucks in that six-on-five situation, so we like a lot of what we saw.’’
With the first two lines seemingly set — Artemi Panarin, Mika Zibanejad, Pavel Buchnevich, Chris Kreider, Filip Chytil and Kaapo Kakko are the top six forwards for now — any on-the-bubble forwards are going to have to find a spot somewhere on the bottom two lines.
Barring a trade, Jesper Fast, Brendan Lemieux, Ryan Strome and Vlad Namestnikov would seem to have four of those bottom six spots spoken for. That leaves Brett Howden, Lias Andersson, Boo Nieves, Kravtsov and McKegg battling for two to four spots. And that’s assuming someone like Vinni Lettieri doesn’t do something extraordinary in the last week of the preseason to give management something else to think about.
On defense, the top six would appear to be Jacob Trouba, Brady Skjei, DeAngelo, Marc Staal and 21-year-olds Adam Fox and Libor Hajek, with Brendan Smith — who also can play wing — the most likely choice to be the seventh man. Ryan Lindgren, who is 21 and in his second year of professional hockey, might benefit more from playing big minutes in Hartford than fighting for ice time with the Rangers.
The same may be true for Kravtsov, who might benefit from playing first-line minutes in Hartford as opposed to being a fourth-liner or extra forward with the Rangers. And if fellow Russians Igor Shesterkin and Yegor Rykov are assigned to Hartford, it might soften the disappointment for Kravtsov if he goes with them.
Notes & quotes: Former Ranger Kevin Hayes scored, as did James van Riemsdyk, Carsen Twarynski and Jacob Voracek for the Flyers . . . Nick Jones scored for the Rangers . . . Panarin, who left Wednesday’s game with a mild groin strain, skated with the non-game group at the Rangers’ practice rink.