The Rangers all but set their Opening Night roster - at least as of now - with the practice lines Monday. New York is slated to open the 2021 season with 22 players, 13 forwards, seven defensemen and two goals. The Blueshirts placed several players on waivers Monday for the purpose of moving them up to and back from the taxi squad.
The good news is that Mika Zibanejad practiced on Monday. He admitted testing positive for COVID-19, which is why he was delayed joining the team. Now, the only question is whether he will be ready for Thursday. My view is I would love to have the team's #1 captain on the ice, but if it's a question of rushing him back for one game or giving up a few more days to be ready for Saturday and the rest of the season, give the latter 1000 out of 1000 times.
The current fourth line include Brendan Lemiuex, no surprise, Brett Howden, the same, and Phil Di Guiseppe, not a shock as well. Kevin Rooney was the extra skater, an indication of where he falls in the mix and his future usage. Those included in the waiver list are two players who might slide in-and-out of the lineup, Colin Blackwell and Gabriel Fontaine, with Fontaine having a strong camp.
Morgan Barron will not make the team initially, but the delay to the start of the AHL season should enable him to stick around. As David Quinn said, Barron might have been trying too hard and also heard all the chatter that he had a good chance to make the squad, amplifying the pressure he put on himself in camp. With that pressure off, a few good weeks at Hartford and we shouldn't be shocked to see him on MSG ice in a game at some point.
"The competition was tight, for sure," Quinn said. "Morgan, we actually talked yesterday. I think Morgan looked nervous throughout most of the camp. People handle expectations differently. I think there was a lot of talk with him maybe to have an opportunity to make the team, and there certainly was an opportunity for him to do that. But it's a big jump.
"He's a really good player," Quinn added. "We love having him here. I’m not going be surprised if he plays games for us this year, but he’s just looked a little bit nervous, gripping the stick a little bit too much and worried about not making mistake."
Unless a radical change occurs, K'Andre Miller will be in the lineup against the Islanders, lined up opposite Jacob Trouba. Quinn referred to Miller as "a praying mantis," since at 6-5, he is all arms and legs, making it difficult for opponents to get around him. All d-men have growing pains, so to expect no bobbles would be foolish. But Miller hopefully has the internal fortitude to work through any issues, learn from his mistakes and not make the same ones twice, and build on any success he has. With Miller paired with Trouba, Tony DeAnngelo will skate on the third pair with either Jack Johnson or Brendan Smith, unless a waiver claim is made. In addition, Matthew Robertson, who skated with the parent group in practice today, looks set to make the taxi squad to start the season.
"He's worked hard, he’s closed on people, he’s made really good decisions with the puck," Quinn said. "From a defending standpoint, he's like a praying mantis with that stick and his arms and his legs. He’s tough to get around. When you think you have him beat, there he is with his stick. There's just an awful lot to like about him, and let's not overlook his elite skating for a guy that size."
With the WHL season not slated to start for a while, the Blueshirts signed Braden Schneider to an AHL-only deal. Because the signing is for the AHL, it has no bearing on his ELC, and he would have had to be signed pre-December 31 for a year on the ELC, once signed, to slide, based on his age. But Scheider will get to play at a higher level at least until the Brandon Wheat Kings begins play.