When the Philadelphia Flyers roll into town Thursday, they will face a streamlined Rangers squad that is down to 29 players in the last game of the preseason, which will serve as a showcase for defensemen and forwards vying for final roster spots.
Unless the front office and coaching staff decides to carry eight defensemen, one of these blueliners — Brady Skjei, Dylan McIlrath or Adam Clendening — won’t be on the opening-night 22- or 23-man roster, which must be finalized by Oct. 11.
Skjei is the team’s top defensive prospect and the best all-around talent of the trio, but waiver-exempt. McIlrath, a first-round draft pick in 2010, appeared in 34 games last year, and free-agent Clendening, who looked smooth on the power play in the exhibitions, might not clear waivers.
The top five are set: Ryan McDonagh, Marc Staal, Kevin Klein, Dan Girardi and Nick Holden, who averaged 20 minutes a game with Colorado last season. Prospects John Gilmour and Ryan Graves were re-assigned.
At forward, there’s still a surplus that eased somewhat when forwards Marek Hrivik and Nicklas Jensen were waived Wednesday.
Early this summer, it was believed that Jensen and Hrivik would have paths to a roster spot. But with Pavel Buchnevich coming over from Russia and the late free-agent signings of Jimmy Vesey and Brandon Pirri, who should add offense, worked against Jensen. Adding Michael Grabner and Nathan Gerbe, with NHL experience, squeezed Hrivik out of a spot on the fourth line.
With many teams still making decisions, the strategy appears to be that Hrivik and Jensen have a good chance to clear waivers. And like youngsters Robin Kovacs and Malte Stromwall, who didn’t require waivers, they would head to the AHL.
Hrivik, 25, was called up for five games last year. The left wing posted his best numbers last season, with 12 goals and 41 points in 68 games. Jensen, 23, was acquired from Vancouver in January in exchange for Emerson Etem. He scored 15 goals in 41 games with Hartford last season and four in 27 games with Utica.
That leaves 18 forwards for 13 spots. Four are rehabbing from injuries. Oscar Lindberg (hip surgery) is a keeper, expected to be playing in November. Josh Jooris, 26, played a minute before injuring his groin in the first preseason game. It’s possible Jooris plays on Thursday. First-year pro Cristoval Nieves and June draft pick Gabriel Fontaine won’t make the roster. One more player will have to move, and signs point to veteran Tanner Glass, 32, who is due $1.4 million this season, and was waived last October and not claimed.