With the recent free-agent additions of Matthew Lombardi and Lee Stempniak, and the pre-arbitration re-signings of Mats Zuccarello and Chris Kreider, the parent New York Rangers now have ten forwards signed who spent the bulk of last season in the NHL, and six defensemen.
The big club has two remaining restricted free agents, forward Derick Brassard and defenseman John Moore, and all indications are that both will be re-signed. Brassard is arbitration-eligible--his hearing is scheduled for Monday--while Moore is not. Assuming that both are re-upped, that would increase the totals to 11 forwards and seven defensemen. The defense number includes Mike Kostka, whose first full NHL season was last year.
I would imagine that the Rangers would probably carry seven D, with the assumed top six being Dan Girardi, Ryan McDonagh, Dan Boyle, Marc Staal, Kevin Klein and Moore. That would set up the likes of Dylan McIlrath, Conor Allen, Matt Hunwick, Steven Kampfer, and whatever other dark horses might assert themselves, to battle for the seventh spot, or to try and unseat someone outside the top four for an NHL gig.
Up front, I have to think that J.T. Miller will be given every chance to land a spot in the Ranger lineup, especially given the fact that Brian Boyle is gone and there is a need for a big centerman. With Miller's skill and size, if he puts his mind to it, I think he could do for the Rangers what Mike Richards did for Los Angeles in the playoffs. That is, be a third or fourth-line center who is skilled enough to warrant more than passing attention from opponents, while being enough of a force on the forecheck that he contributes significantly to the wearing-down of enemy defenses, simultaneously helping to keep the top two or three middlemen fresh.
I suspect that the parent club would love for another youngster or two, in addition to Miller, prove worthy of a full-time NHL job, given that the Rangers are likely to be significantly short on cap space once contracts are done for Brassard and Moore. Jesper Fast seems to be on the cusp of being able to make the jump, and other prime candidates I would point to would be Oscar Lindberg and Ryan Haggerty.
The center position is a definite story line around the entire organizational roster, with Brad Richards also gone in addition to Boyle. Lombardi is a centerman, so his arrival adds some depth there, but if I'm Lindberg, or Chris Mueller or Marek Hrivik for that matter, I'm looking at the Blueshirt roster and thinking that there is every reason to come to training camp with the mindset that there is a job there for the taking. On the Wolf Pack side, the team's second-half surge can in large part be credited to the addition of T.J. Hensick and the more consistent presence of Miller, two developments that strongly bolstered the club up the middle. Now Hensick has signed with Hamilton and Miller is likely to spend even more time in the NHL, so I wonder if the organization might have an eye out for another depth centerman. Mueller is certainly one, and he is coming off of a Calder Cup with Texas, and if all of the veteran "bubble" guys that the Rangers have signed end up with the Wolf Pack, the team will be out of veteran slots, but it still would not surprise me if we see a Hensick-type guy added before the end of the summer, if one turns out still to be out there.