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A night of debuts as Rangers take on Isles in preseason opener

Bobby Bevilacqua

chris-kreider-shooting-10-18

Photo courtesy of MSG Photos.

After a long summer of waiting following a first round exit, New York Rangers hockey is back with the team beginning preseason play against the New York Islanders tonight at Madison Square Garden.

This marks the first of six preseason games that will be played before the team opens the regular season on October 13 at MSG against the Islanders. Following a lot of offseason moves and the development of young prospects, Alain Vigneault has a lot of new players to watch as he works on finalizing his roster.

Tonight, 11 of the 20 players on the ice for Vigneault have not appeared in a regular season game for the Rangers, including some exciting young prospects as well as offseason acquisitions. The top line features longtime Ranger Chris Kreider alongside Mika Zibanejad and highly touted Russian Prospect Pavel Buchnevich. And according to AV, they’ll be tough to play against.

“If they are the way they were in practice, they’re going to be a handful,” Vigneault told CBS NY’s Sean Hartnett. “They were by far the best line and the three best players today. Both offensively and defensively they made a lot of things happen. They’re definitely a line we’re going to keep together and probably will be playing together in one of the next two games. They were excellent, all three of them used their skill, their speed and made some things happen offensively — so it was fun to watch.”

Kreider has shown flashes of being an elite power forward in the NHL but is yet to really assert himself consistently over an entire season. He does have back-to-back 21 goal seasons, but the potential to hit 30+ goals and certainly 50+ points is there.

Zibanejad has done nothing but improve every year since debuting in the 2011-12 season, and has also recorded back-to-back 20 goal seasons. Last year he broke 50 points for the first time in his career and being just 23 years old, he’s still yet to enter the prime of his career.

He’s a young player that our scouting staff and our management all felt was on the upswing,” Vigneault said. “He’s been in Ottawa for a few years. He’s been able to play power play, penalty killing, five-on-five. The speed is there, the skill is there, the youth is there.”

Buchnevich is only 21, but already has a few successful KHL seasons under his belt. He’s increased his offensive production in all three categories every year and has produced similarly to current NHL stars Vladimir Tarasenko and Evgeny Kuznetsov at that same age. If this line sticks and produces well, it could be one of the Rangers’ best.

Also debuting on the second line is Brandon Pirri and Josh Jooris, two free agent signings. Jooris could factor into the lineup as a fourth liner given his penalty killing ability, possession numbers and ability to chip in offensively. Pirri is interesting because while his offensive skill is certainly there, the roster is so full that he might not have a spot right away. Pirri is an elite shooter and a former 20 goal scorer with the Florida Panthers and he can wind up being a great asset to the team. Nicklas Jensen will also play on this line, fighting for a roster spot after a standout performance at the end of the AHL season as well as the World Championship with Denmark.

Other players to keep an eye on are Swedish prospects Robin Kovacs and Malte Stromwall, both playing together on the third line. Both played for AIK in the Swedish league last season, tallying 34 points (23-12-34) and 42 points (25-17-42) respectively. Kovacs seems to be the more highly regarded prospect out of the two, and could be a very potent offensive player down the line. Definitely watch for these two tonight.

On defense, new signing Adam Clendening will play with Marc Staal, Brady Skjei will play with Dan Girardi and Mat Bodie will partner with Dylan McIlrath. Brady Skjei is almost guaranteed to start this season following Dan Boyle’s retirement and Keith Yandle signing with the Panthers, but he’ll still need to earn that spot. Adam Clendening and Dylan McIlrath are seemingly fighting for a sixth defenseman spot, so the performance of those two is also something to look out for.

Magnus Hellberg will start in goal for the Rangers but will split time with Mackenzie Skapski. Puck drop is at 7 PM and you can watch on MSG.

TONIGHT’S LINEUP

Chris Kreider-Mika Zibanejad-Pavel Buchnevich

Brandon Pirri-Josh Jooris-Nicklas Jensen

Robin Kovacs-Marek Hrivik-Malte Stromwall

Tanner Glass-Maxim LaPierre-Chris Brown

Marc Staal-Adam Clendening

Brady Skjei-Dan Girardi

Mat Bodie-Dylan McIlrath

Magnus Hellberg

Mackenzie Skapski

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Posted on September 27, 2016, in Game Previews and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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