As the Rangers skated off the pre-season ice after a 5-2 victory over the Red Wings on goals by Theo Fleury, Valeri Kamensky, Petr Nedved, Tim Taylor and Adam Graves and strong goaltending by Mike Richter, the roster was basically set with the exception of a little tinkering here and there.
The final lines, no one knows for sure what they will be but it looks as though Petr Nedved, Theo Fleury and Val Kamensky will man the first unit with Brian Leetch and Stephan Quintal at no. 1 defense, the hotly contested no. 2 center slot has at least been filled with rookie Mike York who had an outstanding pre-season. The smallish center with crisp cuts and hands will man Adam Graves and perhaps John MacLean. The No. 3 unit is Manny Malhotra with Jan Hlavac and Mike Knuble/Kevin Stevens… Stevens a known dressing room leader had a strong pre season and was protected by the Rangers in the Waiver Draft.
The fourth line on Muckler`s three line team will be made up of Tim Taylor (he will see lots of ice time on the no. 2 and 3 units as well), Eric Lacroix, Darren Langdon, Knuble/Stevens and others….will audition. Defensively, Kim Johnsson and Sylvain Lefebvre will man the no. 2 unit with Mathieu Schneider and Peter Popovic at no.3 while Jason Doig will take the no. 7 spot or perhaps Ulf Samuelsson will be called back to MSG at the seasons` start.
Goal with Mike Richter and Kirk McLean is set, although Milan Hnilicka (sent to Hartford) played NHL worthy net in the preseason and may get a nod if McLean faulters, but as of now, J.F.Labbe is no.1 in Hartford (recently signed a two year contract) and Hnilicka no. 2 with Jeff Heil battling for ice time.
As for toughness, the Rangers will have to rely on old veterans Adam Graves, Stephane Quintal, Darren Langdon, Kevin Stevens, Mike Knuble youngsters Todd Harvey and Eric Lacroix to throw the bone crushing hits and defend the club, since Chris Tamer(expansion Atlanta) and Rumun Ndur(holdout), Jeff Beukeboom(retirement). The Rangers have Dale Purinton and Terry Virtue available from AHL and Jason Doig from what ice time he can earn under Muckler. The Rangers will undoubtably search the NHL for another big bruiser. Eric Lacroix just might earn that job as the 6-2 205 winger is a notorious “high” hitter.
The Rangers lost John Namestnikov in the NHL`s waiver draft to Vancouver. The Canucks in desperate need of defense with the holdouts of Adrien Aucoin and Ed Jovanovski will likely utilize Namestnikov right off. The Russian defenseman was noted under Hartford Coach John Paddock as the key to the Wolf Pack defense via experience. This role will be held by Terry Virtue although it is likely Namestnikov will return to the Wolf Pack once the Canucks holdouts sign. Former Ranger Richard Brennan moved from Nashville to Los Angeles.
AHL ROSTER MOVES:
The Wolf Pack sent left wing Richard Scott(strong camp) to Charlotte of the East Coast Hockey League and returned right wing Randy Copley to Cape Breton of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. That leaves 20 skaters and three goalies.
The AHL board of governors unanimously approved a franchise in Manchester, N.H., owned by former Whalers managing general partner Howard Baldwin. The Manchester team is scheduled to play in a new arena to be built in time for the 2001-2002 season. -as reported in the Hartford Courant.
Next Report…………………….Scoring Predictions…!