Nick Holden

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Marc Staal is ‘fighting for a spot’ with Rangers, says Vigneault

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The New York Rangers have opened training camp, with head coach Alain Vigneault emphasizing the competition for ice time on his blue line.

Among those vying for minutes? Veteran defender Marc Staal, who has played in 689 career NHL games, turned 30 years old in January and is currently the second highest paid player on the Rangers’ defense, with an annual cap hit of $5.7 million.

He still has four years remaining on that deal, which includes a no-movement clause, per CapFriendly.

The Rangers have undergone significant changes throughout the roster this offseason. On defense, they bought out Dan Girardi while Kevin Klein moved on from his NHL career. They signed free agent defender Kevin Shattenkirk and acquired 21-year-old Anthony DeAngelo as part of the Derek Stepan trade with Arizona.

After an impressive first full year on the Rangers roster, Brady Skjei could also take on a larger role this season and former KHLer Alexei Bereglazov, who signed with New York in the spring, could challenge for minutes with the NHL club.

The Rangers will also have college free agent signing Neal Pionk at camp, and he could contend for a spot, as well. He’s certainly aiming to make the roster, and the fact he’s a right-handed shot may add further appeal.

So, there is plenty of competition on the Rangers’ blue line.

“It would be safe to say there are a few guys for the first time in a long time — Marc being one of them — that are fighting for ice-time, fighting for a spot on the team,” Vigneault told reporters, per The Sporting News.

“If we decided to bring Marc Staal back, it’s because we believe in him. I like Marc Staal, I believe in Marc Staal, but at the end of the day he’s fighting for a spot, and he knows it. Nick was a real effective player for us last season, both offensively and defensively, but it’s a new season for everybody. His play will dictate how much he plays, and that’s probably the same for everybody at this point.”

Fellow 30-year-old Rangers defenseman Nick Holden also found his name in the trade rumor mill this summer.

Looking to make the leap: Anthony DeAngelo

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This post is part of Rangers Day on PHT…

He’s only 21 and already Anthony DeAngelo has been traded twice.

First he went from Tampa Bay, which drafted him 19th overall in 2014, to Arizona. That trade went down last summer. Then, just a year later, the Coyotes sent the talented defenseman to the Rangers as part of the Derek Stepan blockbuster.

Upon joining the Blueshirts, it looked like DeAngelo may get a great chance to prove his worth. But then Kevin Shattenkirk signed and it wasn’t quite as clear where DeAngelo, whose game has similarities to Shattenkirk’s, might fit.

Rangers coach Alain Vigneault is excited nonetheless to see what the youngster can do.

“I only saw him once last year but everything that I’m hearing … everybody seems to think this guy is legit and he’s ready to take the next step,” Vigneault said, per NHL.com. “I have not talked to anyone who has told me differently. Everybody I speak to says the same thing, that he’s going to help us as far as our quick north/south transition game, and that he’s going to help on the power play.”

DeAngelo appeared in 39 games for the Coyotes last season and finished with a respectable five goals and nine assists. The catch is that eight of his 14 points came on the power play, and with Shattenkirk in New York now, it remains to be seen how much quality PP time will be left for DeAngelo.

Barring injuries, there is plenty of competition that DeAngelo will need to beat out in order to play in the NHL next season. Assuming the Rangers’ top four is set with Ryan McDonagh, Shattenkirk, Brendan Smith and Brady Skjei, that leaves Marc Staal, Nick Holden, Alexei Bereglazov, Neal Pionk, and DeAngelo to battle for the two spots on the bottom pairing.

From the New York Post:

Clouding the issue is a believed contractual out-clause that would allow the 23-year-old Bereglazov to return to the KHL rather than accept an assignment to the AHL. The Rangers are unlikely to allow that to happen.

The Rangers likely acquired the 21-year-old DeAngelo from the Coyotes in the Derek Stepan deal in order to play him on the right side rather than have him sit around as a spare.

But the Blueshirts also believe that Pionk, the righty signed in May out of the University of Minnesota Duluth who will turn 22 next week, is NHL-ready.

Thus, Pionk and DeAngelo presumably will be in direct competition for a spot, with the saving grace being that both are exempt from having to go through waivers.

So it should be an interesting training camp from that perspective. While it won’t be the end of the world if DeAngelo starts out in the AHL, he should be desperate to make a good impression nonetheless.

“He knows this is his third team in a real quick span,” said Vigneault, “so he’s got to make a name for himself.”

Let’s look at Rangers’ contracts after Zibanejad signing

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The New York Rangers are no strangers to big off-season (and trade deadline) changes, and this summer has been no different.

Phew, that’s quite the series of changes, and it’s not necessarily covering every single facet.

So, that leaves us with some questions: what are the Rangers left with, and what does the future look like beyond 2017-18?

Spending on players in their own zone

When checking out the Rangers’ salary structure at Cap Friendly, it’s clear that the Rangers’ long-term commitments lie in Henrik Lundqvist ($8.5 million cap hit through 2020-21) and the defense in front of him.

Shattenkirk, 28, is the highest-paid blueliner of the bunch … at least for now.

His $6.65M cap hit is more manageable than some anticipated, particularly since the term isn’t too risky at four years. Shattenkirk, Marc Staal (30 years old, $5.7M), and Brendan Smith (28, $4.35M) all see their contracts expire after the 2020-21 season.

Shattenkirk may not be the most expensive Rangers defensemen for too long, as Ryan McDonagh is due for a raise quite soon. The 28-year-old’s $4.7M cap hit is a bargain, but his deal runs out after 2018-19. McDonagh would hit unrestricted free agency if the Rangers can’t figure something out there.

As mentioned before, the Rangers are trying to shake Holden’s $1.65M cap hit (a deal that only runs through 2017-18), but either way, he likely won’t be part of the mix for long. Brady Skjei, on the other hand, stands as an especially intriguing consideration. His rookie deal expires after next season, and with it that $925K cap hit. It will be intriguing to see how much he gets, and when the Rangers aim to sign him (as they technically could do that now if they’d like).

Staal’s $5.7M is a problem, especially going forward. Otherwise, the Rangers seem to be spending their money reasonably wisely on the blueline.

The goalies behind that defense should be fascinating to watch, as Pavelec has plenty to prove after years of Raanta giving Lundqvist very valuable breaks.

Uncertainty beyond Zibanejad?

It’s one thing to have three defensemen locked down for at least three seasons; it’s another to see that the Rangers only have three forwards with at least three years of term remaining.

That’s not necessarily a bad thing, yet it’s a bit of an eyebrow-raiser for a team that once made a lot of shaky bets on long-term deals for scorers.

Right now, these are the three Rangers forwards who are signed through 2019-20 or later:

Zibanejad: 24, $5.35M, expires after 2021-22 (would be UFA)
Chris Kreider: 26, $4.625M, expires after 2019-20 (UFA)
Jesper Fast: 25, $1.85M, expires after 2019-20 (UFA)

Those deals are good-to-great, and the best news is that those players are in the thick of their primes.

It’s fascinating to note some of the decisions that are looming, though.

After a long stretch of being a trade rumor magnet, Rick Nash, 33, will see his $7.8M cap hit evaporate after 2017-18. That could come in handy as the Rangers will see noteworthy forwards (and also Skjei) like J.T. Miller, Kevin Hayes, and Jimmy Vesey become RFAs. Desharnais is slated to be a UFA, and most importantly, Michael Grabner is too … and will almost certainly command a significant raise from his dirt-cheap $1.65M.

Some interesting deals only have two years remaining, including Mats Zuccarello‘s $4.5M and Pavel Buchnevich‘s ELC.

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All things considered, the Rangers are in pretty good shape. It’s up to GM Jeff Gorton to keep it that way.

Welcome Nick Holden to the trade rumor mill

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Last summer, when Nick Holden was traded from Colorado to the Rangers, Patrick Roy called Alain Vigneault to say, “You just got one of my better defensemen.”

Now it seems that Holden may be on the trading block again.

From the New York Post, in the wake of Mika Zibanejad‘s contract extension:

The Blueshirts are projected to start the season with just $445,556 of cap space if they carry eight defensemen (including Alexei Bereglazov) and 14 forwards (including Andersson and Boo Nieves with Jesper Fast on IR). The Rangers are expected to attempt to deal defenseman Nick Holden ($1.65 million) in order to bulk up in the middle, if possible.

Holden played 80 games for the Rangers last season, scoring 11 goals with 23 assists. The 30-year-old is signed for one more year before he can become an unrestricted free agent.

If Holden is traded, the Rangers could go into next season with a top four of Ryan McDonagh, Kevin Shattenkirk, Brendan Smith and Brady Skjei. That would leave Marc Staal, Bereglazov, Anthony DeAngelo, and perhaps even Neal Pionk to fight for minutes on the bottom pairing.

What’s unclear is Holden’s value on the trade market. After all, the Rangers only gave up a fourth-round draft pick to get him from Colorado. Has his value risen significantly since?

Can prospect Neal Pionk start the season with the Rangers?

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The New York Rangers’ defense is going to look different next season, but training camp will show us just how different it’ll be.

New York bought out Dan Girardi, while Kevin Klein decided to retire from the NHL. Meanwhile, they signed Kevin Shattenkirk in free agency and they traded for Anthony DeAngelo.

One under-the-radar signing that could also crack the roster, is undrafted free agent Neal Pionk, who spent the last two years at the University of Minnesota-Duluth.

The 21-year-old put up an impressive seven goals and 34 points in 42 games last season, and he believes he can make the jump to the NHL without spending time in the minors.

“Whatever happens after training camp happens, but my goal going into training camp is to make the team,” Pionk said, per NHL.com. “I think I can fit the Rangers’ style. I know coach [Alain] Vigneault likes to play an up-tempo game.”

On the surface, this just looks like a prospect that is saying all the right things, but when you consider the righty/lefty breakdown on New York’s defense, you realize Pionik might just have a chance.

Of the top seven defensemen on the roster, Shattenkirk and DeAngelo are the only righthanded shots. Ryan McDonagh, Brendan Smith, Brady Skjei, Nick Holden and Marc Staal are all lefties.

If the Rangers want to keep three right-handed blue liners on the roster, Pionk certainly has a chance to stick. It doesn’t mean he’ll play every night, but he could be a guy who sees some game action here and there.

“He has power-play potential,” Rangers director of player personnel Gordie Clark said. “He has a great mind on him. He can find the cross diagonal pass that makes you go, ‘Oh my god no … wait, how did he see him?’ He’s got that.”

Related:

Optimism replaces pessimism after changes to Rangers defense