Thursday, September 30, 2010

Nine Guys...Six Spots

As the Rangers head into Friday's matchup with the Ottawa Senators and the last two preseason games for them the biggest question is on the blueline. After Wade Redden was sent down to Hartford (and will report) these are the names that are left for John Tortorella to construct a defense:

Michal Rozsival
Michael Del Zotto
Dan Girardi
Marc Staal

Steve Eminger

Matt Gilroy
Mike Sauer
Ryan McDonagh
Pavel Valentenko

I've separated the nine players out. The first four names listed are basic locks for the big club. Barring some unforeseen event these four guys will be the foundation of the defense with the coaching staff and management looking for improved play over last season.

Steve Eminger is an interesting case. The Rangers traded for him in July and the general consensus is that he is here to be a veteran seventh defenseman. Unfortunately, at least from the little that I have been able to watch of him, he has not done a great job and is sort of on the bubble. I expect him to the the seventh defenseman the entire season but he needs to be careful that he doesn't lose his spot to a younger players somewhere down the line.

The last group is the most interesting. Assuming the first four players and Steve Eminger make the team, that means two spots are open for these four players. All four of them have shown very good things this preseason and camp which is making it very difficult for the coaches to decide who stays and who goes. I myself am having trouble deciding who I want patrolling in front of Henrik Lundqvist. However, there are two more games left in the preseason to decide these things.

If I could pick one of these players to definitely make it, it would be Pavel Valentenko. Acquired in the Scott Gomez trade, "Tank" has lived up to his nickname. I cannot remember the last time the Rangers had a defenseman whose first thought was to plaster someone against the boards (Tomas Kloucek?) Sure he will make mistakes but what rookie doesn't? Tank has been playing in a very good league in the KHL with very skilled players. As noted on the Rangers broadcast last night, Tank said that he enjoys the smaller ice surface of North America because it suits his game more.

Out of the other three, it really is a tossup. Gilroy has played in the NHL and has looked much better after adding 10 lbs. of muscle in the offseason. Mike Sauer has been a stalwart down in Hartford the last few year and is the last hold over from the Brian Leetch trade with Toronto way back when.

I like what I have seen with McDonagh but I think sending him down to Hartford for awhile would not be a negative. There is no doubt he is a smart player but the transition from college or juniors to the NHL for a defenseman is much more difficult for a defenseman than it is for a forward. I think he will be a solid defenseman in the NHL someday but some seasoning in an important role will do him some good.

How does it all play out? We'll find out after this weekend's contests but it will be a battle and I am sure that John Tortorella will lose some sleep over the decision...if he hasn't already.

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