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Kids Making Decisions Hard for Rangers in Camp

Plus Lundqvist Schedule, Cuts and Lineup for Tonight

by Matt Calamia @MattCalamia /

Rangers head coach Alain Vigneault said often times by the final two games of the exhibition schedule, teams are close to the lineup they'll deploy on opening night.

But that's not the case this year as New York enters its second-to-last tune up contest against the Flyers tonight with 38 players still in training camp.

"We've got a lot of people because we haven't sorted out exactly what we're doing with our forwards and our defense," Vigneault said on Monday. "A lot of guys are making it hard for us as far as decision making."

Many of those are the youngsters still battling to get noticed and try and earn a spot in the lineup for Oct. 5 against Colorado. Up front, first round picks Lias Andersson and Filip Chytil are joined by first-year pros Vinni Lettieri and Gabriel Fontaine, as well as second-year pro Boo Nieves. 

Lettieri appeared in nine games after signing with the Rangers out of the University of Minnesota. He said that stint greatly helped him to adjust to the pro game and has made the transition smoother than it would have been had he come right out of college and into camp.

"Playing in Hartford at the end of the year definitely helped me a lot," he said. "Just got me a little acclimated for the next level I was going to be at and obviously there's still another step to the NHL. I'm seeing a little of that in the preseason games, but it's been good so far. All the veterans and the whole coaching staff have been supportive to all the new guys coming in and myself."

Lettieri, who scored a goal Friday night against the Islanders, has been used at both center and on right wing throughout the exhibition season, something Vigneault has said he likes in his players.

"I've liked his skill set as far as skating ability, quickness of the shot," the coach said of Lettieri. "He's been able to play more than one position. We've tried him on the right side, we've tried him in the middle. He's been very effective. He's one of those guys that is making us look twice and making us think." 

Fontaine is the last player remaining in camp who spent last year in junior hockey, coming from the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League's Rouyn-Noranda Huskies. While that's an adjustment, the 2016 sixth round pick said his style of game lessens the curve a bit.

"For sure there's a big difference, but I think my junior game was good overall, so making the step is a little adjustment but I think I'm pretty good," he told on Monday. "My two best qualities are my speed and my defensive play. When you go up [a level], those are the two most important things, I think. If the coach wants to play you on the third or the fourth line, you need good defensive play."

"I've seen a very good skater," Vigneault said of his fellow French Canadian. "He's been able to check well also in certain situations. There's no doubt his skating ability has caught our attention. He's made some good decisions with the puck."

Vigneault has been pleased with how all the young forwards still in camp have performed thus far, which has led to other decisions with his lineup, namely shifting J.T. Miller back to wing after having him open camp at center.

"The games the kids have played, and some other guys like Boo and Vinni, all those guys have played real well," he said. "We've got some tough decisions to make here in terms of who we're keeping with our team."

Henrik Lundqvist will play all 60 minutes against the Flyers tonight at Madison Square Garden. Ondrej Pavelec will do the same tomorrow night in Philadelphia.

The Rangers made four addition cuts this afternoon, sending forwards Dan Catenacci and Cole Schneider, as well as defenseman Brandon Crawley, to Hartford of the American Hockey League. Scott Kosmachuk was released from his professional tryout and will report to Hartford as well.

Tonight's projected line combinations based off this morning's practice.

Chris Kreider - Mika Zibanejad - Mats Zuccarello
Rick Nash - Filip Chytil - Pavel Buchnevich
Gabriel Fontaine - Lias Andersson - Matt Puempel
Paul Carey - Boo Nieves - Vinni Lettieri

Ryan McDonagh - Kevin Shattenkirk
Marc Staal - Tony DeAngelo
Brendan Smith - Steven Kampfer

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