With tonight’s game in Las Vegas against Los Angeles only four hours away, and cuts looming over the weekend, this is a big night for prospects Conor Allen, Jesper Fast, Marek Hrivik, Chris Kreider, Oscar Lindberg, Brandon Mashinter, and JT Miller. All will be in the lineup tonight, and all will be fighting to stay.
So, who is likely to make it?
Allen is the only defenseman in the group, and there is no question that he was not expected to be in this position. One member of the organization even suggested to me in training camp that Allen might be playing part of the season in the ECHL. No one seems to be thinking that at this point. AV has said that he would like to keep eight defensemen, and if that is true, Allen has a real shot at being one of them. If only seven are kept though, which is frankly a more likely scenario, Allen is almost certainly going to be taking the bus to Hartford when the team comes back east.
The situation at forward is much more complicated. Assuming that Ryan Callahan and Carl Hagelin are not ready for opening day (which is pretty good assumption), no moves are made over the weekend, and AV only keeps seven D-men, there is room for two of the six forwards that are listed above. I believe that Miller has solidified his spot, so absent his injury, there is one spot left. Prior to the pre-season, it was assumed that Kreider would get one of those two spots. But now, it is not nearly as certain. Kreider has at times looked lost on the ice, catching up to the play, and making the wrong decisions. He did play a little better with Miller earlier in the week, but tonight will be the decision-maker for him (Kreider will play with Boyle and Fast tonight). Frankly, I think it would be best for him to start on the top line in Hartford than stay with the big club for now, but I think that there is pressure to make a success of Kreider this year rather than taking it more slowly, so he may stay.
Fast was not that impressive early in training camp, but really showed excellent skill and high energy in last week’s second pre-season game. He didn’t put up any points on the board, but he turned heads. Lindberg on the other hand, did not look like much thus far in the pre-season games, but he was absolutely spectacular in both Traverse City and in training camp. If there is only one other spot, I believe that the Rangers will give it to Lindberg, but I don’t think that he is ready for it. I would rather see both Fast and Lindberg also start in Hartford and see which one (or maybe both) stands out. Fast, Lindberg, Kristo and Kreider fighting for NHL roster spots while in the AHL will make for some battle.
Hrivik has looked good on the ice during the pre-season, but he really needs to contribute to the offense more than he has thus far. He has one more shot to do so on a line with Miller and Lindberg tonight. There are also injury worries with Hrivik long-term, but that should not affect the Rangers’ decision as to who to keep right now (when Callahan and Hagelin come back, it is likely that Hrivik will be sent down anyway). My thought, however, is that unless he blows everyone out of the water tonight, Hrivik starts the season in Hartford.
Then there is Mashinter, who it is my belief should have the inside track. He can be tough, he can skate, and he has put up points in the AHL. Older than any of the other prospects, at 25, Mashinter would have to clear waivers to be sent back to the Wolf Pack–a good spare part for the team, especially if there are some moves to help with cap issues, it seems to me that Mashinter should be the winner of the last roster spot.