-- Young defensemen Michael Del Zotto
and Tim Erixon
both thought they might have done enough to stay with the Rangers through their final round of major cuts Saturday.
Only one of them avoided the dreaded early flight home from Europe.
Del Zotto is staying. Erixon is one of seven players who are ticketed on a flight to Hartford on Sunday to play for the Connecticut Whale of the AHL.
Erixon will be joined by forwards Dale Weise
, Carl Hagelin
, Ryan Bourque
, Kris Newbury
and John Mitchell
as well as defenseman Blake Parlett
. Fellow defensemen Dylan McIlrath
was also cut, but he is going back to play for Moose Jaw in the WHL.
Weise is the only one of the players who is subject to waivers.
Defense - NYR
GOALS: 2 | ASST: 9 | PTS: 11
SOG: 58 | +/-: -5
"They definitely have given me an opportunity and I think we're all on the same page in knowing what I can do and the game I can bring here," Del Zotto said. "It's about getting the opportunity and they've given that to me. I have to show to them that I'm going to take advantage of it. There are still learning curves and I'm still young, but I have to go out and prove I belong here every day."
Del Zotto could find himself in the lineup come next Friday, when the Rangers open their season against the Los Angeles Kings
in Stockholm at Globe Arena as part of the 2011 Compuware NHL Premiere.
He played 80 games as a rookie two seasons ago and developed a swagger that coach John Tortorella loved. He lost some of that last season and was sent to the minors, but it appears that Del Zotto has at least some of it back now.
"I'm feeling more comfortable playing those spots offensively," said Del Zotto, who scored his first goal of the preseason Friday here in Gothenburg. "We have a lot of skill on this team and if you find a whole they're going to feed you the puck. I have to keep doing that consistently. Every night I have to contribute offensively. I have to find a way."
Erixon is a different story. The Rangers can see the upside in the former first-round draft pick (for Calgary), but Tortorella said he's just not ready to play in the NHL yet.
The 20-year-old Swede is still adjusting to the North American game and ice surface, so the hope is that he gets the proper knowledge by playing in the American Hockey League with the Connecticut Whale.
"I think I played pretty steady," Erixon said Friday before learning of the cuts. "I just try to keep in mind all the time what they want me to work on and try to play the way they want me to play. I focus on the defense and try to learn how to play there. You start to feel more comfortable the more you play. They give me advice all the time. I try to take it all in and learn from it."
Tortorella admitted earlier this week that evaluating Erixon here in Europe is more difficult because he is used to the larger ice surfaces the Rangers have been playing on. The coach said Erixon played his best game Friday against Frolunda because he got more involved in closing out plays and taking away time and space.
"But, having said that it was still in a bigger building where you had more time," Tortorella said. "He had a good camp and he improved each day, but he still needs to go through the process. It's a very difficult thing to step into a National Hockey League team as a defenseman and play. We felt the most important thing was get him playing immediately, get him more used to the North American style."
Tortorella is hoping to see Erixon develop on the same path as Ryan McDonagh
, who and we're hoping it goes on the path as far as what happened with (Ryan) McDonagh last year. McDonagh played half a season in Hartford before joining the Rangers in January. He wound up with 9 points and a plus-16 rating over 40 games, and now he's a top four blue-liner.
"I know (Erixon) was disappointed, but this is the best thing for him and it will be the best thing for the organization as he goes through the process," Tortorella said.
Avery or Christensen: The Rangers kept 25 players on the roster, including 14 forwards, eight defensemen and three goalies. They have to cut one more player by Oct. 5 (they're allowed to keep three goalies in Europe for insurance purposes), and Tortorella said it looks like it'll either be Sean Avery
or Erik Christensen
They're both in the final year of their current contract. According to capgeek.com, Avery is due to make $2 million because his salary is split with Dallas. Christensen is owed $925,000.
"As far as the forwards are concerned, we'd like to just carry 13 and we're still not sure what that 13th forward is," Tortorella said. "Erik and Sean are battling for that spot."
What about the D: For now it appears the plan is for the Rangers to keep eight defensemen largely because there is still uncertainty surrounding Marc Staal
(post-concussion symptoms), and to a lesser extent Michael Sauer
, who has bounced between the AHL and ECHL since 2008, impressed Tortorella enough to earn a roster spot for now.
The 24-year-old Bickel has never played in a NHL regular-season game, but he could be in the lineup next Friday if both Staal and Sauer can't play.
"This kid Bickel has stood in there for us. He's a guy that is involved and has had a very good camp," Tortorella said. "We've been pretty impressed with how Bickel has stood in there because I knew nothing about him when he came in here. He's a big guy who gets in the way. He's beginning to learn how to use his stick. He has improved daily and that's why he is here."
Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter at: @drosennhl