Deep Opening-Night Roster Loaded With Talent
|Goaltender Henrik Lundqvist appeared in 70 of 82 games last season and could see even more work between the pipes in 2007-08.|
On Monday, the Rangers' front office made the final moves necessary to get the roster down to the maximum 23 players for opening night.
The roster that starts the regular season on Thursday night against Florida includes two goaltenders, eight defensemen and 13 forwards. A year ago, the Blueshirts opened the season with three goaltenders, six defensemen and 14 forwards.
In increasing their blueline count up to eight, the Rangers were able to include rookie Marc Staal, the 2005 first-round draft pick who was named the Ontario Hockey League's Defenseman of the Year last season. Staal, who already has two brothers in the NHL, worked hard in camp to earn his roster spot – even scoring the final goal of the preseason to beat Philadelphia.
Staal, who will wear No. 18, is one of three rookies on the opening-night roster. The others are center Brandon Dubinsky and winger Ryan Callahan. Although both players saw action in the NHL last season, they still qualify as rookies and are eligible for the Calder Trophy, which hasn't been won by a Rangers player since Brian Leetch claimed the honor in 1988-89. That could be a good omen, since Leetch will have his No. 2 retired later this season.
Of the 20 veterans on the roster, 18 were with the Rangers at the end of last season, including defenseman Jason Strudwick, who signed near the end of the regular season and practiced with the team during the playoffs despite being ineligible to play in them. Strudwick won't have that problem this season, but he'll need to compete for playing time with a very deep and diverse corps of defensemen.
The leadership structure from last season is also intact. Jaromir Jagr returns as captain, and last year's alternate captains Brendan Shanahan and Martin Straka are also back. These three veterans are the only players on the roster over 35 years old. The bulk of the team, however, is on the front end of their careers, as a whopping 11 players start the season at age 25 or younger.
The two veteran newcomers, of course, are high-profile free agent signees Chris Drury and Scott Gomez. These two centers were both impressive in the preseason and demonstrated the impact they can have on a team that came within two wins of the Eastern Conference Finals last spring.
Four Rangers players also changed numbers from their training camp assignments on Monday. Defenseman Dan Girardi, who wore No. 46 in camp and during the 2006-07 season, will be switching to No. 5. Callahan, who wore No. 43, will return to number 24, which he wore for most of his career before last season, and Dubinsky will wear No. 17 after having No. 48 during training camp and No. 54 last season. Staal also changed numbers, since he had worn 42 in training camp.
Final cuts included rookies Artem Anisimov, Nigel Dawes and Al Montoya, who were all reassigned to Hartford.
For the 19-year-old Anisimov, a center playing his first season in North America after coming over from his native Russia this summer, Hartford will be the first stop in his pro career. The 2006 second-round draft pick is able to play in the American Hockey League at age 19 because he is coming from Europe. Given his age, Anisimov would have had to return to major-junior if he had been developed in either the OHL, QMJHL or WHL.
For Dawes and Montoya, Monday's reassignments represent a return to Hartford, where both will begin their third seasons with the Wolf Pack. Dawes, a left wing, and Montoya, a goaltender, enjoyed strong training camps, but were unable to crack the deep Rangers roster -- a testament to the strength of that 23-man unit.
Indeed, the decision to keep Stephen Valiquette over Montoya as the backup to Henrik Lundqvist was also a tremendous vote of confidence for Valiquette, who registered a tremendous shootout win over St. Louis last March and made the most of limited playing time.
Defenseman Andrew Hutchinson was also reassigned to Hartford after clearing waivers over the weekend. Hutchinson, who played in the NHL with Carolina last season, came to the Rangers in the off-season trade for Matt Cullen. He will be returning to the AHL for the first time in three years.