Regarding the Rangers:
1. The training camp battle for a top-nine right-wing spot is not expected to include 2017 first-rounder Vitali Kravtsov, who has had an impressive start to his season while on loan to Traktor Chelyabinsk of the KHL.
The Post has confirmed that while the Blueshirts have the contractual right to recall Kravtsov at any time, there is an understanding that the winger will complete the season in Russia before he’d be summoned to North America.
The KHL season, which has been conducted through numerous positive tests for COVID-19 — that is an anecdotal representation of the situation through discussions with NHL personnel and player agents, given that positives and cases are not reported — is scheduled to end on Feb. 27. The playoffs would conclude April 30.
The NHL remains focused on starting on Jan. 1, or shortly thereafter. If that becomes the case, and, say, Traktor, currently third in their division at 15-9, goes a couple of rounds deep into the KHL tournament, Kravtsov would theoretically become free to join the Blueshirts toward the end of March, which might be about halfway through the NHL season.
Kravtsov has drawn praise not only for his production (eight goals, three assists in 17 games), but for his work habits and the development of his 200-foot game. If his evolution continues, Kravtsov will be in much better position to claim a spot in New York when he returns to North America. And the Rangers’ left wing/right wing imbalance would be addressed.
By the way? A rookie named Don Maloney once joined the Rangers about halfway through a season, and that worked out pretty well for everyone.
2. I wouldn’t expect the Rangers to move either Adam Fox or Tony DeAngelo from the right to the left. There is just no one else to play the right side at the moment. Which means the left side features Ryan Lindgren, Brendan Smith and Jack Johnson, with Libor Hajek, K’Andre Miller and Tarmo Reunanen expected to contend for spots on the roster.
And, with Lindgren-Fox as etched-in-stone a combination as you’ll find on the team, engraved even more deeply than Artemi Panarin-Ryan Strome and Chris Kreider-Mika Zibanejad, training camp will determine whether Smith will reprise his late-season and qualifying-round role as Trouba’s partner.
Could one of the kids play well enough to earn that assignment? If past is prologue to the opening of the season, keep in mind that Hajek partnered with Trouba for 18 of the first 20 games last year.
3. Whither Brett Howden, the natural center who moved to the wing for last season’s final 36 games before moving back to the middle for all three games of the qualifying round, where he was one of the team’s most imposing players?
Howden, 22, has Panarin, Kreider and Alexis Lafreniere ahead of him on the left and Zibanejad, Strome and Filip Chytil ahead of him in the middle.
If the Blueshirts shift one of the left wings to the other side, Howden could compete for the third-line job on the flank. Morgan Barron, who has spent the majority of the offseason training with Chris Kreider at the Prentiss Academy in Connecticut, and who, we are told, is evolving into beast-body mode, will contend for that job, and so will Brendan Lemieux.
Are fourth-line minutes in the middle the best use of Howden’s time? In normal times, Howden would probably be better served by getting first-line minutes in Hartford.
But the AHL isn’t scheduled to start play until Feb. 4, so the question instead becomes is Howden better off in New York with fourth-line minutes or on some sort of taxi squad going through extended spring training?
Rhetorical question, likely.
4. A reminder that the Rangers did not have a center win as many as 50 percent of his draws last season, the overall 46.6 percent success rate at the dots ahead of only the Sabres’ even more wretched 45.9.
Howden, 48.2 during the year following a 48.4 rookie season, did win 11 of 21 draws in the qualifiers, so there’s that teeny sample size off of which to build. Free-agent signee Kevin Rooney, who will compete for a fourth-line spot, has a 47.4 career percentage at the dots.
5. Before Brad Park, before Arnie Brown, before Rod Seiling, before Dale Rolfe, there on the blue line was Jim Neilson, who crafted one of the most impressive understated careers in Rangers’ history.
The Chief passed late last week at the age of 79. One of the first NHL players of indigenous heritage, Neilson was an inspiration to his community. I was able to spend some time with him at a morning skate a few years ago in Winnipeg. The pleasure was all mine.
Neilson, who arrived in 1962-63, played 811 games in the Blueshirt, 10th in franchise history, fifth among defenseman behind Harry Howell, Brian Leetch, Ron Greschner and Marc Staal.
First, it was Neilson with Howell, Doug Harvey (!), Larry Cahan and Junior Langlois and then it was Neilson with Park, Seiling, Brown and Howell.
He was a key player in the transformation from laughingstock to contender. He was a big-time Ranger and a role model.
RIP, No. 15.
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