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Focus turns to final roster cuts

Preseason competition for jobs yielded everything hoped for -- and more

Saturday, 10.02.2010 / 10:40 PM / News
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Focus turns to final roster cuts
BOX SCORE | GAME CENTER
Four Players Assigned to Hartford
Complete Training Camp Coverage

By Jim Cerny, newyorkrangers.com

Now comes the really tough part.

With Saturday’s wild 8-5 loss in Ottawa officially closing out the preseason for the Rangers, the team’s coaching staff and front office management must now decide which players will make the opening-night roster and which ones will not.

And with how well the club performed during a 4-2-0 pre-season, along with the quality of depth at all positions, these final decisions will not be easy to make.

“I have some pretty good ideas about what we are going to do, but these are going to be some very difficult decisions,” said Rangers head coach John Tortorella.

Faced with a great deal of talent at all positions, Rangers head coach John Tortorella will have to make some difficult decisions before putting out his opening-night roster next Saturday night at Buffalo.
Those decisions are expected to be announced on Sunday, six days before the Blueshirts take to the ice for their regular-season opener in Buffalo. However, Tortorella did not rule out picking up other players off waivers in the coming week, meaning that a final roster for opening night might not be exactly “final” until Thursday’s league-mandated deadline.

“There are a lot of things for us to consider, not just how a player has played (in preseason) but where he fits in the balance of our club,” said Tortorella.

Adding to the decision-making process is the fact that two key veteran forwards, team captain Chris Drury and alternate captain Vinny Prospal, are currently sidelined. Drury’s broken left index finger likely will land him on the injured reserve list to start the season, according to Tortorella, while Prospal will not skate for a couple of weeks because of a sore knee.

That means there are likely two roster spots up for grabs, not to mention important minutes of ice time to be divided up among other forwards.

On Saturday veteran forwards Ruslan Fedotenko and Todd White made their final preseason impressions positive ones.

Fedotenko assisted on White’s shorthanded goal late in the second period and finished with a team-best plus-3 rating. In five preseason matches, Fedotenko, who is in camp on a tryout basis, led the Rangers with seven points (1-6-7) and was a plus-5 overall.

“He’s a solid guy offensively and defensively, and he’s a guy as a coach you look down the bench and know you can trust him in any situation,” Tortorella said of Fedotenko.

White scored his first two goals of the preseason on Saturday and was a plus-2. The veteran center played in four pre-season matches and finished with four points (two goals, two assists).

Several younger forwards found their way onto the scoresheet on Saturday, as well. Derek Stepan netted his third goal of the preseason, and second in as many nights, although he was a minus-4 in the game. The 20 year-old rookie finished the preseason with five points (3-2-5) in five appearances. Now, just like Fedotenko, White, and several others, Stepan must wait to see if he did enough to earn the right to wear a Rangers sweater on opening night.

“There’s nothing I can do about it,” said Stepan. “I can only control things that are in my control. That has been my approach all throughout camp, just try and keep things as simple as possible.”

Two younger players assigned to Hartford earlier in the week were recalled to play in Saturday’s game so that veterans such as Marian Gaborik, Alexander Frolov, Ryan Callahan, and Sean Avery could get the night off. And both Dale Weise and Mats Zuccarello made strong second impressions.

Weise dropped the gloves and engaged in a spirited fight with Ottawa’s Nick Foligno 4:22 into the game, and then assisted on Artem Anisimov’s third goal of the pre-season seven minutes later.

Zuccarello, who played a feisty game, especially on the forecheck, netted his first preseason goal early in the third period on a pretty assist from Tim Kennedy, who is also in the running for a roster spot.

On defense, the Rangers dressed five youngsters who had one year or less of NHL experience. Their sixth defenseman on Saturday was veteran Steve Eminger, who has been battling throughout training camp for one of the six or seven spots on the blueline.
Though the Rangers surrendered eight goals -- including two empty-netters -- in this wild back-and-forth game, there were some positives from the youngsters on the back end including Ryan McDonagh’s plus-1 outing in 19:50 worth of action and Mike Sauer’s very steady plus-1 contest over 18:39.

“McDonagh has a very quiet confidence about him,” noted Tortorella. “And Sauer has had a heckuva’ camp.”

With the preseason complete, it is time for the Rangers decision makers to factor in every detail and make their decisions, about the kids, about the veterans, about the forwards, and about the defensemen.

Now is the really tough part.