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NEW YORK, NEW YORK – NOVEMBER 08: Sammy Blais #91 of the New York Rangers skates against the Florida Panthers at Madison Square Garden on November 08, 2021 in New York City. The Rangers defeated the Panthers 4-3. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

Well, there you have it.  The 2022-23 NHL preseason is over and done with; the Rangers no doubt are ready to move on to games that “count” and they will get their chance on October 11th when they face their Eastern Conference nemesis in the Tampa Bay Lightning.  The Rangers had a ho-hum preseason and went 2-4 which is nothing to panic about.  Nor is a 2-4 preseason anything to brag about as the Rangers are coming off of a third round playoff run last season.

The big questions still lie in the final roster assignments and the inevitable if not painful cuts and reassignment back down to AHL Hartford.  NHL rosters carry only 22 or 23 roster spots and fans would love to see their favorites reserve a spot on the bench this season but the reality of salary cap space means only some players get to hang out at Madison Square Garden this season.

Final roster assignments and cuts are happening right now.

I’ve talked a lot about former Ranger Jimmy Vesey this preseason and rightly so since he’s been working out with the Blueshirts on a Professional Tryout (PTO) option since September.  Well, patience is a virtue and a second time is a charm for Vesey as the Rangers picked up his PTO contract and offered him a one year deal worth $750,000.  That deal may be the bargain of the season for the Rangers who return a seasoned player who’s made the journeyman rounds around the NHL only to come back to his hockey “home” in New York.  From 2016-17 to 29018-19, Vesey played in 240 games and produced 50 goals and 40 assists for the Rangers.  Time wasn’t too kind for Vesey and he found himself bouncing around from franchise to franchise including Vancouver, Toronto, Buffalo and last season with the New Jersey Devils.  Ironically, Vesey was picked up by the Devils after showing off what he could do for them in the preseason on a similar PTO contract.

Vesey had his work cut out for him this preseason and worked with every line on the Rangers depth chart.  Vesey made the most of his  time with the first unit alongside Chris Kreider and Mika Zibanejad and made an impact on the second line with Artemi Panarin and new teammate Vicent Trocheck.  Vesey has made himself valuable as a penalty-killing specialist and this ability, along with his goal and two assists this preseason, helped seal the deal and keeps him in a Blueshirt this year.

Roster cuts in the final days of the preseason are never enjoyable for both the front office and for the players involved and this year is no exception.  Saturday night’s preseason wrap-up game against the Islanders saw recently rehabbed Sammy Blais go down after taking a hit from Isles’ defenseman Alexander Romanov (who was fined $5,000 by the NHL for the hit.)  Blais has only recently returned from an ACL tear last season and was making strides to regain a roster spot this year.  While Rangers head coach Gerard Gallant has been quoted as saying “he should be fine,” those kinds of quotes are exactly why Rangers fans should be concerned about Blais returning to the Rangers bench this week.  As of now, Blais is still listed on the active roster but if any further medical needs warrant it he could be moved to the injured reserve (IR.)

Rangers forward Kaapo Kakko shot the Rangers lone goal in Saturday’s preseason loss to the Islanders and three goals in the last two tune-up games before the regular season starts this week.  Kakko found himself with ice time on the first line with Kreider and Zibanejad and based on his production level of late may find himself in a similar role when the Rangers open up against the Lightning.

The Rangers are looking to make their final roster cuts in order to get their 23 player bench ready for the start of this season.  Defenseman Matt Bartkowski was released from his PTO contract and the Rangers also waived fellow defenseman Jarred Tinordi and he’s been picked up by the Chicago Blackhawks.  Forward Julien Gauthier was assigned to the AHL with the Hartford Wild Pack and could be back with the Blueshirts at a later date.  In all, the Rangers will carry 14 forwards, seven defensemen and two goalkeepers on their opening night roster.  For those of you who’ve been waiting for this season to officially start, you need not wait any further – the 2022-23 season is here.

 

 

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