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Where the newest Rangers players fit in the lineup

Bobby Bevilacqua

The Rangers didn’t make any big splashes in free agency, mainly due to the restrictions of the salary cap. Instead, Jeff Gorton added some players to help bolster the Rangers’ bottom six forward group, and making other subtle moves to help provide depth.

Barring contract disagreements or trades, the Rangers are likely done making moves to acquire new players. So looking at the new additions for this year, where do they fit in the Rangers plans?

Emerson Etem

Emerson-Etem

Photo courtesy of Jerome Miron/USA TODAY Sports.

Emerson Etem was acquired from the Anaheim Ducks in the trade for Carl Hagelin. At just 23, he has a ton of upside, and is a former 60 goal scorer in junior hockey. He didn’t flourish in Anaheim, mainly because they would bury him on the fourth line without any other skilled forwards. He also was bounced back and forth between the AHL and NHL, never playing more than 45 games a season with the Ducks.

Etem will play a much bigger role with the Rangers. With Hagelin gone, Vigneault needs the new players to step up and fill the two voids in the top-nine left by Hagelin and St. Louis. Gorton has already said that Etem will be given the opportunity to immediately slide into a top-nine role. Etem has some of the same sills that Hagelin has, mainly his speed, but he can also play physically, adds size to the lineup, and will get to the front of the net.

Vigneault has done great with young players in his two years in New York. Just look at how Mats Zuccarello, Derick Brassard, Chris Kreider, Jesper Fast, JT Miller and Kevin Hayes all improved and developed. So with that great track record, there’s reason to believe that he can do the same with Etem, and help turn him back into the scorer he was in junior hockey.

I expect Etem to be the third line winger for the Rangers. He will be given every opportunity to succeed and take on the offensive role that he has always wanted. Etem is not yet signed, but he’s an RFA, and based on his selection of a new number and his interviews with the Rangers, he’ll be in blue on opening night.

Viktor Stalberg

viktor stalberg 2

Photo courtesy of the Nashville Predators.

After winning the Stanley Cup in Chicago, Viktor Stalberg signed a contract with the Nashville Predators, but was bought out after just two seasons in “Smashville.” He played for the majority of the 2013-14 season, totaling 18 points (8-10-18), and spent a lot of time rehabbing in the AHL following injuries. Gorton inked him to a one year, $1.1 million deal.

Stalberg is another guy that will add size to the Rangers lineup. Standing at 6’3” and 209 pounds, he gives the Rangers what they’ve been lacking in size without compromising skill. He’s got pretty good hands, and is a former 20 goal scorer in the 2011-12 season with Chicago. You wouldn’t expect it, but he’s an explosive, and quick skater as well. Just look at this highlight reel goal.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sGgBf0paiJA

He splits two defenders with his great skating ability, and fires a great wrist shot over the goalies glove hand. Vigneault likes to employ the speed game, and the Swedish forward should be able to adjust accordingly.

He’s an excellent defensive forward, so he could provide a huge boost to the fourth line, or he could even be brought up to the top six in case of an injury. He’s a very good possession player, and he’ll help the Rangers as another versatile forward.

I see Stalberg finally pushing Tanner Glass out of the lineup, making him the 13th forward, and taking a spot on the fourth line next to Dominic Moore and Jesper Fast. But if Vigneault decides to keep Hayes as the third line center, and assuming Derek Stepan is a Ranger on opening night, then maybe he will try Stalberg on the second line, like he did with Stempniak at the start of this past season. Stalberg’s use heavily depends on where Vigneault decides to place Kevin Hayes.

Stalberg seemed very excited to join the Rangers, and play with a ton of fellow Swedes in the process, inclucind Lundqvist. He said that playing and living in New York was always a dream of his, and that he thinks the Rangers give him a good shot at lifting the cup again. Hopefully that drive and determination lead to production in the regular season.

Raphael Diaz

raphael diaz

Photo courtesy of Candice Ward/USA TODAY Sports.

Matt Hunwick was expected to be the Rangers spare defenseman for this past season, and he wound up playing 55 regular season games, coming in for injuries and taking playing time from John Moore. When Dan Boyle broke his hand, Hunwick came in and played well, showing the importance of a seventh defenseman.

With Hunwick in Toronto, Jeff Gorton needed to find an experienced D-man who could serve as a backup, and he turned to a familiar face, signing Raphael Diaz to a very cheap $700k, one year contract.

Diaz was acquired in a trade at the end of the 2013-14 season, appearing in 11 regular season games and 4 playoff games. He’s very dependable defensively, has a great slap shot from the point, and is very effective when it comes to limiting opponent’s shots and scoring chances.

He didn’t see much ice-time in Calgary, mainly because of the incredible amount of talent that they have on the blue line, and he should get some ice time in New York.

He’ll definitely play here, either when someone is hurt or in a rut, but I think he will spend most of his time as the seventh defenseman. The Rangers are unlikely to trade Kevin Klein, so Diaz doesn’t really have a shot at making the starting lineup. But Vigneault will need to use him at times throughout the season.

Antti Raanta

Antti Raanta was acquired from the Chicago Blackhawks in exchange for prospect Ryan Haggerty. The 26 year old Finnish netminder was the third goalie on the NHL roster, behind Scott Darling and Corey Crawford, but it wasn’t because of his skill.

Raanta, 26, is a talented 6’0” Finnish goaltender with a low cap hit, which made him an attractive option for the Rangers. His play in the Finnish Elite League, Liiga, earned him a spot in the NHL. In 2012-13 with Assat Pori of the Liiga, Raanta finished with a 21-10-11 record (11 ties, not overtime losses) along with a spectacular 1.85 GAA in 45 games played.

In the NHL, he has been a solid back-up and fill-in option for Chicago. Over two seasons, Raanta posted a 20-9-5 record with a 2.41 GAA and a .912 save percentage. In a small sample size, he was very impressive during this past season, posting a 7-4-1 record with a 1.89 GAA, a .936 save percentage and two shutouts in 14 games played.

Raanta will be the team’s backup for the upcoming season, and he will see action early, as the Rangers play the Blue Jackets in a home and home series on October 9th and 10th. I’ve seen him play, and he looked pretty good in Chicago, so the Rangers should be just fine with him as their backup.

Magnus Hellberg

magnus hellberg

Photo courtesy of John Russel/Getty Images.

Gorton made another good depth move when he acquired Magnus Hellberg, a second round pick of the Nashville Predators, for a 2017 sixth round pick. Nashvile’s AHL affiliate, the Milwaukee Admirals, had a logjam of goalies, and needed to move a piece. The Rangers needed goalie depth in Hartford, and Hellberg is the answer.

Hellberg, 24, spent most of his time with the Milwaukee Admirals of the American Hockey League, the Predators’ AHL affiliate. He appeared in 38 games, finishing with a 15-10-6 record along with a 2.33 GAA and a .913 save percentage, as well as three shutouts.

Hellberg started out the AHL season brilliantly, picking up wins in his first six appearances. In those six games, he allowed two goals or less, allowing one goal or fewer in five of those games as well. He had a fanastic month of November, posting a 5-0-1 record with a 1.28 GAA and a .950 save percentage, with one shutout in seven appearances. Hellberg represented the Western Conference at the 2015 AHL All Star game.

Over three AHL seasons, Hellberg has appeared in 98 games, earning a 42-36-7 record, a 2.36 GAA, a .917 save percentage and 10 shutouts. He’s never posted a save percentage below .911, and has had a 2.33 GAA or better in two separate seasons. He’s appeared in one NHL game, entering the game in relief and playing for 12 minutes, allowing one goal.

He’s 6-foot-6, which makes him a very intriguing prospect. Taller goalies seem to be the direction that many teams are headed, and if Benoit Allaire can work with Hellberg, he could become a quality goalie. Also, if Antti Raanta chases more money or a starting opportunity after this year, Hellberg could develop into a backup, especially because his cap hit would be only $600k.

Hellberg will start the season with the Wolf Pack, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he was the starter there. Cedric Desjardins struggled following his ACL tear, and Mackenzie Skapski is still recovering from hip surgery. When everyone is healthy, it will likely be Hellberg and Skapski battling for the third spot on the depth chart.

Matt Lindblad

The Rangers got Matt Lindblad from the Boston Bruins, signing him to a one year deal. Gibbons was undrafted, and spent most of last year with the Providence Bruins. He totaled 24 points in 55 games with Providence last year. He played four games with Boston, recording no points.

Lindblad was signed to help out the Wolf Pack. That’s where he will spend the majority of the season, and he could get called up if there is an injury. But don’t count on it.

Brian Gibbons

Yet another Boston College boy in the Rangers organization, Gibbons was also inked to a one year deal. He’s a center, so he probably won’t see much time in the NHL, but he’s the most likely player to be called up if there is an injury down the middle. In the 2013-14 season, he had 17 points in Pittsburgh, but didn’t have the same success in Columbus, with five assists in 25 games.

He’s a nice addition for the Wolf Pack, and if the Rangers have an injury down the middle, he could get called up.

Jayson Megna

Megna spent the last season with the Penguins and their AHL affiliate, recording one assist in 12 NHL games. Also a center, he won’t see NHL time because of the amount of players in front of him.

Luke Adam

Another depth center brought on board by Jeff Gorton, Luke Adam only played three games with Columbus, recording no points. It wasn’t too long ago that he was a solid prospect in the Buffalo Sabres organization, and he did put up 20 points in 52 games with the Sabres in the 2011-12 season. Given his past success, there is a chance that he could play with the Rangers, but it would have to take some injuries.

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Posted on July 12, 2015, in In the Crease and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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