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High expectations for Meszaros

Friday, 10.03.2008 / 1:09 PM / NHL Premiere

By Dan Rosen - NHL.com Senior Writer

PRAGUE, Czech Republic -- Barry Melrose admitted Friday he's worried about how Tampa Bay's young group of defensemen will react in the regular season.

That's why Melrose is relying heavily on 22-year-old Andrej Meszaros, the fourth-year defenseman the Lightning acquired in a trade at the end of August.

"He started as an 18-year-old and he's already played over 200 games," Melrose said. "He's an emerging star. People in the United States don't know him that well because he played in Ottawa, but everyone in Canada knows this guy. He's our guy. He's our stud on defense. He'll play 25-30 minutes a night, power play and penalty kill. We need him to be great."

Meszaros, who Melrose predicts will be among the League leaders in minutes played by a defenseman this season, will start the season playing alongside fellow Slovak Vladimir Mihalik, a 21-year-old rookie.

Considering where we are geographically, there is great interest in that pairing this weekend.

"I said (to Meszaros), 'The roles are reversed,' " Melrose said. " 'When you were in Ottawa they played you with (Wade) Redden because you were the young D. Now you're Redden and you're playing with the young D.'

"I think they play very, very well together. I can't remember a game when Mihalik got beat bad or where he made a terrible pass that got intercepted. He plays the game very safe. He's got the great reach which overcomes a lot of things. He's competed pretty hard. He looks pretty good."

Roster moves -- The Lightning and Rangers each trimmed their rosters down.

The Lightning placed Jason Ward on injured reserve with a groin injury and the Rangers re-assigned defensemen Corey Potter and Brian Fahey.

Even by sending down two defensemen, leaving the Rangers with eight, coach Tom Renney said he's not sure if he wants to carry six or seven defensemen for the long term.

"That's as much a dilemma as anything," Renney said. "I know when we get back to New York we're going to have to do some more things to solidify this roster."

Stamkos ready -- On the eve of what should be his NHL debut, 2008 top draft pick Steven Stamkos said he's both excited and ready for the big time, even if he's starting in Europe as opposed to North America.

"I think it would be hyped up a little bit more (in North America) and I would probably feel a little more nervous," Stamkos said. "I'm more comfortable in this situation. Having played in six exhibition games I kind of know what to expect with regards to how the game is going to be played, so from that standpoint I'm not nervous. I'm excited to get it under way."

Stamkos said he's been able to adapt to the NHL game because he's such a fluid skater. The difference in speed from junior hockey to the NHL has not bothered him one bit.

“I think I'm right where I thought I'd be. I didn't expect to come in here and tear up the preseason, but I didn't expect not to get any chances. I'm pretty comfortable. I'm hoping to have an impressive debut."
-- Steven Stamkos

"I think I'm right where I thought I'd be," he said. "I didn't expect to come in here and tear up the preseason, but I didn't expect not to get any chances. I'm pretty comfortable. I'm hoping to have an impressive debut."

Feeling confident -- Rangers center Brandon Dubinsky is starting to look and act like a veteran on and off the ice, but the confident 22-year-old said it's important for him to remember his place on the team.

"It's important for me to still understand my role on this team and where I'm at in my career," said Dubinsky, who starts the season as the Rangers' second-line center behind Scott Gomez. "There are certainly a lot of guys that have been there and done it a lot more than me, but with the group of guys we had last year and the group of guys we brought in this year, with Markus (Naslund) and Wade (Redden), all that those guys do is help me. And with Shanny (Brendan Shanahan), (Martin) Straka and (Jaromir) Jagr last year, I couldn't have come into a better situation."

Naslund still searching -- Veteran Rangers forward Markus Naslund, who is expected to play left wing with Gomez and right wing Chris Drury this weekend, said Friday he's still trying to find his way with the Rangers.

"It's different when the regular season comes around," Naslund said. "I'm very much looking forward to tomorrow night's game and getting this thing going."

When asked what hurdle he still has to leap, Naslund mentioned two.

"It's timing, but scoring touch, too," he said. "I have missed more than I can afford to on the nice plays that have been set up. That's what preseason is for, to miss the chances."

Contact Dan Rosen at drosen@nhl.com.
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