There won’t be a lot of time to figure things out when training camp opens for the Rangers next Sunday. A 10-day camp with no preseason games means coach David Quinn and his staff need to have a good idea of what the roster will look like, and how everyone will line up, before camp even begins.
The good news for the Rangers is that the 2020-21 version is going to look a lot like the 2019-20 version — minus, of course, franchise icon Henrik Lundqvist, who was bought out of the final year of his contract and who won’t be playing this season because of a heart condition. Longtime Rangers Marc Staal and Jesper Fast also are gone, but just about everyone else is back, so developing team chemistry shouldn’t be an issue.
"Familiarity, for a lot of the guys, is key, especially with the shortened season and shortened camp,’’ defenseman Adam Fox said. "We lost a lot of staples and leaders of our team from last year, but I think it obviously leads to some opportunities for guys to step up and take on bigger roles.’’
Fox, a Jericho native, is one of those who will be expected to have a more prominent role in his second year. And there are a few new guys — such as No. 1 overall draft pick Alexis Lafreniere — who will be trying to incorporate themselves into the group.
It will be interesting to watch Lafreniere’s progress in his first season. With a 56-game regular season and a format in which only the top four teams in each division make the playoffs, the Rangers have to hope he’s ready to make an impact right away.
Here’s a projected position-by-position breakdown of the Rangers’ upcoming camp:
Locks (nine): Mika Zibanejad, Artemi Panarin, Chris Kreider, Ryan Strome, Pavel Buchnevich, Kaapo Kakko, Lafreniere, Filip Chytil, Brendan Lemieux.
Gotta earn it (six): Kevin Rooney, Brett Howden, Julien Gauthier, Phillip DiGiuseppe, Colin Blackwell, Morgan Barron.
To be determined: Presuming Quinn keeps last season’s first line of Kreider, Zibanejad and Buchnevich together and starts the season with Panarin and Strome together on the second line, there’s one open spot among the top six forwards: the second-line right wing position vacated by Fast. Does that automatically go to Kakko, the No. 2 overall pick in 2019? Might Lafreniere, a left wing, switch to the right side and take it? Also, entering his third season, where does Howden fit? Can Barron make the jump from Cornell straight to the NHL?
Locks (five): Fox, Jacob Trouba, Tony DeAngelo, Ryan Lindgren, Jack Johnson.
Gotta earn it (five): Brendan Smith, Anthony Bitetto, Libor Hajek, K’Andre Miller, Tarmo Reunanen.
To be determined: Smith finished last season as Trouba’s partner after Brady Skjei was traded to Carolina at the deadline, but will he be Trouba’s partner on the first (or second) pair this season? Might Trouba partner with Johnson, the free agent signed to replace Staal? Or perhaps Hajek, who made the team out of camp last season but after an injury finished the season in the AHL? Miller impressed in the short camp before the August restart, and Reunanen, a fourth-round pick in 2016, has been playing great in Finland. Will one of them crack the top six? Is there a spot for Island Park native Bitetto, who played 51 games last season for Winnipeg?
Locks (two): Igor Shesterkin, Alexandar Georgiev.
To be determined: Barring something unforeseen, Shesterkin, who replaced Lundqvist as the No. 1 goalie last season, and Georgiev will be the top two. Long Islander Keith Kinkaid looks to be the taxi squad goalie, with prospects Adam Huska and Tyler Wall in the AHL — if the AHL plays.