NEW YORK – There were still several important personnel decisions for Rangers coach Alain Vigneault and his staff to make in the team’s next-to-last preseason game Tuesday in Brooklyn.
So Vigneault watched the game from a skybox to keep a keen eye on the players on and around the bubble, with associate coach Scott Arniel handling the bench.
The Rangers have an off-day scheduled Wednesday, then play Philadelphia at the Garden in the preseason finale Thursday. So opportunities are still there, but they won’t be there for long.
Vigneault also planned to have cuts after the game against the Islanders. Earlier in the day, the Rangers released Maxim Lapierre from his tryout contract, and waived Mat Bodie, Tommy Hughes, Chris Summers and Chris Brown for the purpose of assigning them to Hartford. That left the roster at 34 players.
“I originally had planned on going (into Thursday’s game) as close as I could to our (opening night) lineup, but now I feel with what I’ve seen that we might need that last game to make better assessments on certain players. So it might not be our exact lineup. It definitely won’t be.”
Also, Mats Zuccarello is not expected to play Thursday, after his Olympic trials with Norway and his World Cup run with Team Europe, but that could change.
The bubble guys include Marek Hrivik, who is “in the mix” according to Vigneault, battling for a fourth-line spot with, presumably, Nathan Gerbe and Tanner Glass, among others – Malte Stromwall and Robin Kovacs being longer shots.
Brandon Pirri (four preseason goals, but some glaring weaknesses also) is still seemingly vying for a spot with rookie Pavel Buchnevich, who had a bunch of scoring chances Monday in Philadelphia and received praise Tuesday.
“I’ve liked him,” Vigneault said. “Anybody who’s watched him closely sees that offensively he’s creating opportunities. He hasn’t finished but he’s getting some real Grade A scoring opportunities. He’s been, in my estimation, poised on the power play. And defensively he’s working extremely hard to come back and help and try and implement some of the things we’ve been working on. His English is better than he lets on, so I’ve liked a lot of things I’ve seen from him. He seems like a very coachable young man, and he’s certainly got a lot of upside.”
On Monday, after Pirri scored again, Vigneault said, “there’s no doubt that he’s got a knack to find the net and score. … “But there’s other areas where I need to be sure he’s going to be able to make the play – get the puck out, be strong on the wall, and (Monday) in certain areas he needed to make a better play. But there’s no doubt offensively that he’s got good hands and he can find the back of the net.”
It would seem the ninth forward, or the third-line winger, is the only spot open for either of those players. One could be the 13th forward, scratched on opening night.
On defense, Adam Clendening is trying to win a right-side spot, probably as a third-pair or an extra, in a battle with Dylan McIlrath, among others, John Gilmour being the longshot there, and Brady Skjei most certainly not having a job locked up. He may be Hartford-bound to start the season.
NOTEBOOK: No punishment for Gudas, Vesey OK, Lapierre gave “his best shot” …
Radko Gudas of Philadelphia did not/will not have a disciplinary hearing for his boarding major against Jimmy Vesey Monday. “I’ve seen that hit many times before, from that player,” Vigneault said. “I’ll leave it at that.” Vesey is fine, other than a sore nose. …
In his previous game, Vesey was run into the crossbar chin-first. “Been a tough couple of games, I guess,” he said, “but I don’t mind that. It felt like it woke me up a little bit. So, yeah, I’m fine with that stuff.” …
Josh Jooris (groin) skated Tuesday but is doubtful for Thursday’s game. Oscar Lindberg continues to skate as he hopes to return in November from hip surgery. …
Vigneault and GM Jeff Gorton have still not determined if they will carry 22 or 23 players into the season, due to cap issues. Having three scratches per game might not be worth the cap implications down the road. Nor does it make sense for young players to sit around rather than playing in the minors. …
Vigneault, who coached Lapierre in Vancouver, said, “He gave it his best shot.”
Photo by Brad Penner-USA Today Sports.