Rangers “minor” offseason moves proving to be not so minor

Bobby Bevilacqua

viktor stalberg profile full body 9-30

Viktor Stalberg is just one of the many successful depth moves made by Jeff Gorton to improve the roster, prepare them for any potential injuries, and give them options at other positions. Photo courtesy of MSG Photos.

The Rangers didn’t make any big splashes in free agency like they usually do. No huge signings, no blockbuster trades. And that’s why people wrote off their offseason moves as just slight depth moves, and not major improvements.

But if you look at the situation that Vigneault faced during final cuts after last year’s preseason games and compare it to now, those so-called “minor moves” are actually pretty darn important.

Last year, the Rangers were in a lot of trouble before the season started, losing Derek Stepan to a broken leg. He was slated to be their number one center, and Vigneault didn’t have Brian Boyle or Brad Richards anymore to step up as a substitute.

That led to Vigneault debating whether he should just keep the “best 13 forwards,” even if they’re out of position, or keep up a guy like Chris Mueller solely to fill a center role. One serious injury to an important player was enough to derail Vigneault’s plan and create a significant ripple effect throughout the lineup.

On top of that, the depth wasn’t nearly as strong last season. When Vigneault needed to call the reserves, he needed to call on guys like Chris Mueller and Ryan Malone, who didn’t really solve the problem at all. Tanner Glass made the team and played for most of the year, because there was nobody around to challenge his spot.

Fast forward a year, and the situation could not be any more different.

Observing the Rangers depth chart, and watching through all of their games this preseason, it’s easy to see that the Rangers were better prepared coming into this year’s training camp and preseason.

When the Rangers signed guys like Luke Adam, Jayson Megna and Brian Gibbons, I wasn’t expecting anything from it except AHL depth. But those guys, notably Megna and Gibbons, were solid in the preseason games, with Megna making it to the final cut. They can be called on in cases of injury.

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Jayson Megna turned out to be a nice surprise after the preseason, and a potential call-up if needed during the regular season. Photo courtesy of MSG Photos.

A lot of credit needs to go to Hartford Wolf Pack head coach Ken Gernander as well as assistant coach, and former Ranger defenseman, Jeff Beukeboom. The Rangers prospects have been steadily improving, always benefitting from their time in the AHL.

Oscar Lindberg has blossomed into an NHL player, and the new third line center. He had a fantastic season in Hartford, tallying 56 regular season points, and adding an additional 16 points in 15 playoff games. He’ll center Viktor Stalberg and JT Miller on the third line, and I think he’ll do very well.

Jeff Beukeboom worked extensively with Dylan McIlrath, transforming him into a defensively responsible yet still physical defenseman. McIlrath was so impressive during camp, that GM Jeff Gorton said he “kind of forced our hand” to keep him on the roster as the spare defenseman.

Raphael Diaz, who played 56 games with the Flames last season, is down in Hartford, along with defensemen Brady Skjei and Mat Bodie. Magnus Hellberg and Mackenzie Skapski are in charge of goalie duties for the Wolf Pack. And there are quite a few forwards with NHL experience on their AHL roster. The amount of depth at all positions is greatly improved from last season.

All of the preparation made by Gorton and the Rangers have really paid off. There was a lot of healthy competition for roster spots, there’s a lot of depth throughout the organization, and because of that, there’s an improved team on the ice.

Posted on October 3, 2015, in In the Crease and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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