The New York Rangers will mark Day 3 of training camp on Sunday, and if there's one message to grasp from coach John Tortorella thus far, it's that despite the additions of veterans Brad Richards and Mike Rupp, there are spots to be won on the opening day roster for young players. And, oh yeah, if you want to win a job, you better be in tip-top shape!
As quoted by The Record's Andrew Gross:
"We have to continue to try to infuse more youth into our lineup," Tortorella said. ... We added some people at the other end who can mentor. But you can't forget about back-filling with youth and growing that way. There are spots open and there's going to be competition along the way because we want to continue to get young guys in there. So it's a good situation for them. There’s a number of kids out there that are going to vie for a spot depending on how they play. I would be (disappointed if none made it) because it’s important for our organization to keep on trying to grow from within. But I’m not going to force feed it, either.”
Gross notes that the obvious candidates are defenseman Tim Erixon and forwards Carl Hagelin, Christian Thomas, Dale Weise and Ryan Bourque. But don't forget about a player like Mats Zuccarrello as well. Tortorella was very impressed with him last year, and really liked his fearlessness -- plus, he won quite a few games in the shootout! Toward the end of the year, he looked a bit warn down, though, but it remains to be seen whether a year of experience and an offseason knowing what the NHL is all about makes him a frontrunner to earn one of the spots. Don't forget, there will be plenty of newer names as the Rangers open the preseason schedule next week, but it's unlikely anyone would make the team unless they really rose above the rest.
Torts saying this Saturday to reporters is a good motivation tool for his veteran guys -- Sean Avery, Erik Christensen, Wojtek Wolski. If a younger player makes the roster, these are the first guys who would be sitting in the press box come game day, or playing for another team when the regular season kicks off. My bet is that the Rangers make a trade or two to rid themselves of these excess players, if some young guys prove they need to be given a chance
On the defensive side of things, the first two D pairings are already set: Marc Staal-Dan Girardi, Ryan McDonagh- Mike Sauer. Steve Eminger is back again this year, and even though he might not seem important, he fills the important seventh defenseman role very adequately. He's the perfect guy to spell one of the younger players on this final defensive combination.
The Rangers obviously like the 20-year-old Erixon because they went out and acquired him this offseasos. There have also been good reports on him from the Traverse City prospects tournament as well, suggesting his game is polished beyond his age. Michael Del Zotto may have had a rough sophomore season, but he's shown up looking noticebly bigger and stronger, and he said he's very 'motivated' to return to the NHL.
If one thing is for clear, it's that the Blueshirts want to see their younger players succeed and make an impact in the NHL -- and their coach expects them to rise to his challenge of making the team.