TARRYTOWN – The entire MSG Training Center went silent, which made Igor Shesterkin’s angry slam of his stick into boards that much more jarring.
For a moment, fear engulfed the first scrimmage of this New York Rangers’ training camp. The last thing they need at this early juncture is an injury to their most important player, who came up favoring his right leg following a collision with forward Jonny Brodzinski and defenseman Jarred Tinordi on Thursday. But after a brief display of frustration and stoppage in play, the reigning Vezina Trophy winner returned to his net and continued.
“I knew he was fine,” head coach Gerard Gallant said. “Obviously you get a little concerned and say, ‘I hope he’s okay.’ But you know right away. I got a scare when Chris Kreider fell on the boards on the first shift at the other end, but that’s hockey. That’s training camp. You hope you have a good training camp, they work hard, and you hope you stay healthy.”
Aside from one incident that luckily turned out to be minor, the Blueshirts had a smooth first day on the ice.
The 66 players at camp were split into three groups, with two scrimmaging in the morning while the third practiced in the afternoon. They were able to roll right into hockey activities because all of the participants reported early enough to complete the standard on-ice testing prior to Thursday.
Can we interpret the early arrivals as a sign that these Rangers are anxious to get back it at following last season’s trip to the Eastern Conference Final?
“I think so,” forward Barclay Goodrow said. “I was here a month ago and there were a bunch of guys here. Some guys stayed here all summer. I think whenever you get that close and you end up not making it all the way, it leaves a hunger in your stomach that you kind of want to get right back out and finish the job that we almost got done last year. It’s good to see.”
Since the Rangers didn’t waste any time jumping into the action, we won’t either. Here are some of the key observations from a busy first day.
The kids are growing up
The last group to take the ice featured all three members of the Kid Line, who were reunited following their memorable playoff run together.
The connection between Alexis Lafrenière, Filip Chytil and Kaapo Kakko seemed to carryover, as they whipped the puck around with confidence and purpose in each drill. The trio also stayed on after practice for extra work with skills coach Mark Ciaccio.
“We just know each other,” Kakko said. “I think we play almost the same style.”
Gallant is hoping they can bottle up those positive vibes from the postseason and provide the lineup with evenly distributed scoring.
The early signs were encouraging. Kakko’s wrist shot looked to have a little extra power behind it – “I think it’s getting better,” he said with a smile – while Gallant pointed to added strength for all three former first-round picks.
“Not that they were in bad shape last year, but they’re a little bit more like man shape now,” he said. “Fil looks really big to me right now, Kaapo looks like bigger and Laffy, definitely. They all look a year older, which they are.”
At 6-foot-2, 196 pounds, Lafrenière is actually the smallest of the trio. But in the playoffs, Gallant called him “one of our most aggressive players.”
“Every shift I was involved physically,” the soon-to-be 21-year-old said. “I was making plays when I was at the net. I was always around the puck, so that’s when I play good. I try to remind myself before every shift, ‘Be involved and be around the puck and good things happen.’”
Gallant noted that he doesn’t expect Lafrenière to play that way for all 82 games of the regular season, but took pride in seeing the No. 1 overall pick from the 2020 NHL Draft assert himself in that manner.
His postseason emergence led to curiosity about whether he might switch to right wing and move into the top six, which remains a possibility. But for now, the growing kids are happy to be together.
“I always said I can play with everyone, everywhere,” Lafrenière said. “Right, left wing, it doesn’t matter to me. I’m ready to play for the team. And wherever I’m playing, I’ll try my best to play hard.”
Barclay Goodrow plans to play in preseason
Goodrow also practiced with the final group and didn’t show any ill effects from the left ankle injury he suffered in May.
The 29-year-old forward won’t participate in scrimmages on Friday and Saturday, but Gallant stressed that’s only out of an abundance of caution.
Goodrow echoed those sentiments and said he plans to play in “some” of the upcoming preseason games.
“It feels good,” he said of the ankle. “How it feels today compared to a month ago even is night and day. If the season started tomorrow, I could play, no problem. But we just talked about taking it slow and making sure it’s 1,000%. It’s a long season. It’s not something I want to be nagging around and lingering going into the season, so may as well let it heal completely and make sure it’s 100%.”
New-look second line shows promise
Thursday’s scrimmage ended in a 3-3 tie, but the most impressive line belonged to Group B.
That would be the new-look second line featuring Artemi Panarin, Vincent Trocheck and rookie Vitali Kravtsov. They were often matched up with the top line of Kreider, Mika Zibanejad and Sammy Blais and spent most of those shifts sustaining pressure in the offensive zone.
“They were doing a lot of talking on the bench, from what I heard, and having fun,” Gallant said. “Again, I think it’ll be the exhibition game where you’re going to (see how they mesh) – and they may not play together. I don’t know. The last one they will, for sure, if everybody’s healthy. We’ll see what the lineup is going to be for the exhibition game, but I think there’s good chemistry.”
Panarin danced with the puck and was undoubtedly the most dangerous player on the ice. He set up Trocheck and Kravtsov for several scoring chances, with both linemates showing a knack for getting inside and looking for Panarin’s feeds from the perimeter.
Coming off an uneven playoff performance that the 30-year-old said gave him “new motivation,” he brought some extra juice to the first day of camp.
“It’s nice to see him smile out there and having fun,” Gallant said.
Vincent Trocheck likely heading for PP1
Gallant hasn’t been shying about revealing his lineup plans, including the power play.
The Rangers ranked fourth in the league with a 25.2% conversion rate and don’t want to mess with a good thing. That why it’s a foregone conclusion that four members of the top power-play unit – Panarin, Kreider, Zibanejad and Adam Fox – will maintain those roles this season.
The only question is who will replace Ryan Strome, who signed with the Anaheim Ducks over the summer, in the bumper position.
It sounds like Trocheck will get the first crack.
“He played that spot with Carolina also last year,” Gallant said. “He deflects pucks really good. He’s got a good shot from the slot area. Like I said yesterday, he fills that spot. … He’s very similar to Stromer on the power play.”