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Strong play by prospects have caught Alain Vigneault's attention

Rangers left wing Anthony Duclair celebrates his goal

Rangers left wing Anthony Duclair celebrates his goal against the Chicago Blackhawks during the first period of a preseason NHL hockey game on Friday, Sept. 26, 2014, in Chicago. Credit: AP / Andrew Nelles

PHILADELPHIA - The easy part of roster-cutting for Rangers coach Alain Vigneault -- from 43 players to 30-something -- was expected to happen after the Rangers left Philadelphia Tuesday night.

Prospect Anthony Duclair scored his third goal of the preseason early in the third period, but the Rangers lost to the Flyers, 4-2. Carl Hagelin scored a shorthanded goal in the first.

The tougher part for Vigneault comes Sunday, four days before the season opener in St. Louis, when the Rangers have finished their six-game preseason schedule and will pare down to 22 or 23 players.

Things are in flux, partly because of injuries and the strong performances by some prospects, Vigneault said before Tuesday night's game at Wells Fargo Center.

"This might take 15, 20 games until we sort it out," he said. "We might make some decisions for the opening-game roster, like some guys have caught our attention, to start." But, he insisted, that does not preclude changes.

Two veteran forwards in the mix should be coming off the shelf. Center Matthew Lombardi (groin) received "some positive feedback" from doctors, and Vigneault is hopeful he can skate "in a day or two" and play on the weekend against either Chicago or the Devils, "otherwise this hurts his chances of starting with us."

Left wing Ryan Malone, who played just one game before he hurt his hip flexor, skated in New York on Tuesday and is expected to practice Wednesday.

"We're going to have to keep 22 or 23 guys," Vigneault said. "Are we better off keeping somebody that's better prepared for now? Would that make us a little better for the time being?"

One thing to keep in mind: Some veterans would have to clear waivers if assigned to Hartford; youngsters on entry-level deals are exempt.

No. 1 center Derek Stepan (broken fibula) is expected to be back by the end of October, and that will shake things up further.

The Flyers dressed very few veterans in Monday's 6-3 loss to the Rangers at Madison Square Garden. The roles were reversed Tuesday night. The Blueshirts dressed only five veterans, including goaltender Cam Talbot, while the Flyers loaded up with regulars.

Matt Hunwick, Mat Bodie, Conor Allen and Mike Kostka dressed for the Rangers in their continuing showcase to earn a spot as a seventh defenseman. Vigneault hasn't been enamored with his choices, which doesn't say much for the depth in that position.

That can't hurt the case for Marc Staal, who is in the final year of his contract and seeking a long-term extension. He can become an unrestricted free agent in June and it doesn't seem like any deal is close.

When asked after the Flyers game Monday if anything had changed on that front, Staal said, "No."

New York Sports