Rangers’ 2021-22 season ended just over three months ago, but it’s already time to get back on the ice even though the New York heat may suggest otherwise.
Camp Rookie will begin at the MSG Training Center in Tarrytown on Wednesday and will run through September 20. The camp will include two potential matches on September 16 and 17 in Allentown, Pennsylvania, against their peers with the Flyers. Rangers will then dive into main camp on September 21 before the six-game pre-season schedule begins on September 26 with a game against the Islanders in the park.
The organization will assess a few rookies closely as management pieces together for the Rangers roster for the 2022-23 season. Here are the top prospects to see at Junior Camp and what the Rangers hope to learn about them:
Zack Jones: Can he defend well at the NHL level?
Jones will compete for the sixth/seventh defense role alongside Lebor Hajek and Matthew Robertson. There’s always a chance that Rangers will invite a veteran defenseman for a professional trial, but capping him makes the job internally more attractive. Hajek may be the most experienced of the three, with four seasons and 94 NHL games under his belt, but Jones is a highly skilled option who not only has some experience in his own NHL, but also impressed with the AHL Wolf Pack last season.
“He was fantastic, I thought he was our best player all season,” Hartford assistant coach-turned-player development assistant Casey Torres told The Post. “He was very dynamic. He created an offense from high and low probability situations. He competed hard. That great vision on the ice and just having a real dynamic for us offensively at the back end.”
Jones, who drafted number 68 in 2019, hit six assists through 10 games in 2020-21 and 12 games in 2021-22 for Rangers. Not every young defensive player’s transition to the NHL could be as smooth as it was with Braden Schneider, but Jones could improve as he gains more confidence and familiarity with the league’s pace. His ability to effectively play a quarterback in the Massachusetts Wolfpack’s best game made him special, but Jones doesn’t have a clear path to such a role for the Rangers, with Adam Fox and Jacob Trueba already in those spots. Aside from boosting his shot, the offensive side of his game is not a concern. The question now is whether he will be able to translate his keen vision of ice and ability to skate fully into the NHL in his defensive game.
Will Coyle: Is it better for him to have the best six minutes in Hartford or the fourth-line minutes in New York?
The last thing Rangers want to do is rush into another prospect who isn’t ready for the National Hockey League. Almost everything about Cuylle screams NHL-ready. From his 6-foot-3, 212-pound build that he knows how to use, to his powerful left-handed shot, Cuylle has a chance to prove he can skate with the big guys at this upcoming training camp. The Rangers’ 60th pick in the 2020 Draft should outpace the likes of Dryden Hunt, Julian Gauthier, Johnny Brodzinski, Ryan Carpenter and Gustav Rydal, but there is certainly a path for Coyle to make the Rangers roster at some point, if not right out of training camp.
Rangers will have to decide whether Cuylle will benefit more from AHL’s big minutes or a much smaller role in the NHL.
Brennan Osman: Can he break the top nine with a great camp and convince Rangers to try it out?
Given that Usman cannot be assigned to the AHL, the Rangers have few options when it comes to the left winger. Either he’ll make his opening night roster or he’ll be assigned back to Ontario’s Flint Firebirds for hockey. There is also the possibility that Rangers will want to take a longer look at Usman in the squad, which could earn him some NHL games while management makes a final decision. Osman was named 16th overall last year, and his offensive skills are best suited to the top six. Given how many younger wingers Rangers already have in their top two lineup – Alexis Lafreniere, Kaapo Kakko and Vitali Kravtsov – Usman may be pushed out of his place this season.
Matthew Robertson: Can he improve his stamina?
Robertson’s 6-4, 201-pound tire makes it hard to ignore in the Rangers’ depth chart. Last season was his first with the Wolf Pack and he collected one goal and 10 assists with 36 minutes from the penalty kick in 65 matches. It is also worth noting that the 2021-22 season was Robertson’s first away season after playing five seasons with the Edmonton Oil Kings of the Western Hockey League.
His first professional season saw ups and downs, so it might be in the Rangers’ best interest to let Robertson bask in the AHL for a little while longer to gain more confidence. Now that Schneider has stepped up and Jones might follow his lead, Robertson will have a chance to be Hartford’s best defense.
“He’s got that physical presence,” Torres said. “He does a very good job finishing playing in the defensive zone, such a really good skill for him.”
Bobby Trevigno: Can his overall game outgrow what he’s missing in size?
As one of the newest players in the Rangers’ pool of odds, Trivigno will be looking to make an impression. He’s not necessarily as close to making an NHL roster as the rest of the potential players on this list, but the feisty winger is a special type of player and worth looking out for.
“Last weekend he had a really good weekend, the other team players wanted to kill him,” Torres said. “I think that’s part of his game. He brings such a sharpness and fire that people want to hate him, but I think that’s a good trait, he looks like he’s had a really good summer training off the ice, he’s added some muscle. He definitely does everything in He did his best to give himself a chance.”
The primary concern surrounding Trivigno is his 5-8 standing – even if he’s played a much bigger game than his size indicates.