The New York Rangers are scheduled to open training camp on Thursday, and even though we aren't expecting many open competitions for roster spots, there's still plenty of excitement and intrigue surrounding a team with championship aspirations.
To get you set for the upcoming season, we're going to take our annual look at the organizational depth charts. We'll start with the forwards − left wing, center and right wing − then get to the defensemen and goalies later in the week.
Typically, there will be 12 forwards in the lineup for every game. The Rangers are also expected to carry one extra − the 13th forward − as a healthy scratch who can play in a pinch, if needed.
Training camp preview: 8 questions for the 2023-24 season
In this exercise, we laid out the four forwards who are the favorites to make the NHL roster at each position, then listed the next four in line if additional depth is required. You can expect at least a few of those players will be called on this season, whether it be due to injuries, struggles from the players in front of them or based on their own merit. The goal is to paint a full picture of the strength (or weakness) of each position and identify which players could contribute.
Let's dive in.
4. Jimmy Vesey
Next in line
5. Will Cuylle
7. Turner Elson
Analysis: Four years since Panarin signed his big free-agent contract and three years since Lafrenière was drafted No. 1 overall, left wing remains the deepest position in the organization. That’s only been bolstered by pipeline from which six of our top-10-ranked prospects have at least some experience at LW.
Panarin and Kreider have been locked in as the top two since No. 10’s 2019 arrival, and it doesn’t appear that’s going to change. The bigger questions are which center will each veteran play with and will Lafrenière remain in the No. 3 role behind them?
Team president Chris Drury addressed the latter question last week, saying that he’s “anticipating” the soon-to-be 22-year-old will spend time testing out RW during camp. The same goes for Othmann, who understands that the clearest path to NHL ice time will come if he proves he can handle the right side.
Vesey sits comfortable at No. 4 on the depth chart after earning a two-year extension with his solid all-around play last season, giving the Rangers a reliable bottom-six option and go-to penalty killer. He should start as a lineup regular, most likely on the fourth line.
After that, it’s a pair of young guys who are knocking on the door. Cuylle is a year older than Othmann and closer to being NHL ready after leading AHL Hartford with 25 goals last season, but both prospects have a chance to force their way onto the roster if their play warrants a promotion.
Finally, Elson and Trivigno will provide AHL depth. The former is a 31-year-old veteran who led Hartford with 72 games played last season, while the latter is an undersized, undrafted free agent who has a chance because of his high skill and high motor. Trivigno didn’t light up the scoresheet in his first full pro season, posting a modest 26 points (seven goals and 19 assists) in 57 games played for the Wolf Pack, which makes this a pivotal year to show growth.
Beyond the top eight are a couple prospects who are likely looking at developmental years in Hartford. Brett Berard and Adam Sýkora should eventually work their way onto the NHL radar as speedy, pesky forecheckers, but it would be a surprise to see either considered for a call-up this season.
3. Filip Chytil
4. Nick Bonino
Next in line
5. Riley Nash
Analysis: The top four are essentially locked in, with Zibanejad entrenched as the Rangers’ No. 1 center (and reigning team MVP) and Bonino signed specifically to anchor the fourth line. The only bit of intrigue is how new head coach Peter Laviolette will arrange Trocheck and Chytil among the middle-six forwards.
Trocheck was brought here to center the second line and still has six years to go on his seven-year, $39.375 million contract, but there’s a compelling argument to swap him with Chytil. The 24-year-old Czech is coming off a breakout, 22-goal season and has the type of offensive profile – speed, skill and a left-handed shot he isn’t shy about using – that warrants top-six consideration.
Meanwhile, if Laviolette intends to build a third line that can matchup against opposing team’s top forwards, then the defensively-sound Trocheck is the better choice to fill that 3C role.
After the top four, there are a trio of centers with varying levels of NHL experience to provide depth. Nash leads that group with 627 career games played and should compete for the 13th forward role, but Brodzinski and Leschyshyn spent time with the Rangers last year and could garner consideration, as well.
It’s worth noting that Swiss-army-knife Barclay Goodrow can play center in a pinch, which is a card the Blueshirts have played at times each of the past two seasons.
Once you get past the vets, there are a handful of longshot prospects who should be with Hartford. None played more AHL games last season than Henriksson, which is why he landed at No. 8, but Adam Edström, Ryder Korczak and Matt Rempe are also biding their time down on the farm.
1. Kaapo Kakko
3. Barclay Goodrow
Next in line
6. Alex Belzile
8. Anton Blidh
Analysis: Is this the year Kakko finally seizes the No. 1 RW spot and keeps it for a full season? The No. 2 overall pick in the 2019 draft feels like he’s on the verge of a breakout – and, quite frankly, the Rangers are going to need him to step up given the current depth chart.
Wheeler provides insurance. The 37-year-old took a sizable discount to come to New York and fill a major need, with him and Kakko now clearly the best options at RW. Which line he’ll play on is TBD, but he stands as the most pivotal offseason signing for the Blueshirts. They’re counting on him to be a key contributor.
We have Goodrow penciled in at No. 3, but he can easily switch to LW (or center) if either Lafrenière or Othmann makes the move to their off-hand side. That versatility is a nice luxury for Laviolette to have.
Barring something unforeseen, Pitlick figures to play RW on the fourth line. Drury hinted as much after signing the 31-year-old over the summer, calling him “a true right-winger who doesn’t mind throwing his body around and using his speed and has chipped in a little offense along the way."
Belzile was signed to provide another option and should compete with Nash and Brodzinski for the 13th forward role. All three have experience at both center and RW.
Finally, Blidh was acquired in a trade with the Colorado Avalanche last March and made a positive impact on Hartford’s playoff run. The 28-year-old brings the tenacity and physicality that Laviolette and Drury covet, which could put him into the mix if multiple injuries force them to reach further down on the depth chart.
This article originally appeared on Rockland/Westchester Journal News: NY Rangers training camp preview: Analyzing forward depth chart