Walk into the Rangers dressing room after one of the team's informal practices prior to the start of training camp and you'd get the idea that Ryan Malone has been a member of this team for years. He's joking with the off-ice staff, in a long conversation with Derek Stepan, and generally very relaxed as he stretches out in his new locker, the one occupied the past three seasons by Brad Richards.
Yet speak to the 34-year-old veteran of 10 NHL seasons and you find out that Malone is well aware that he has a battle on his hands to even make this team after signing a two-way contract with the Rangers late last week.
"There's a lot of hard work still to be put in just to earn a spot because this is a deep team," Malone said on Tuesday, just 48 hours prior to the start of training camp for the Blueshirts. "I don't want to look too far down the road. I'm not going to win or lose a spot on the first day of training camp, so I have to go out there work hard, do the right things, and show up and play well at those exhibition games."
A six-time 20-goal scorer, Malone has struggled through a pair of injury-plagued seasons the past two years in Tampa; and this past spring the Lightning used one of their compliance buyouts on the rugged veteran forward. That, coupled with an off-ice incident, has helped Malone keep this opportunity with New York in perspective.
"There's enough on the table to motivate myself, but ultimately this is about being on a great hockey team — where I wanted to be," said Malone, who scored five goals, totaled 15 points and accumulated 67 penalty minutes over 57 games with Tampa Bay in 2013-14. "I am just grateful for the opportunity."
This past summer Malone worked out with Stepan and Ryan McDonagh in Minnesota, and he joined the Rangers informal skates early last week even before agreeing to terms on a contract with the team. Malone says he feels great physically and there's no question he has fit in quickly with a group that also includes former Lightning teammates Martin St. Louis and Dominic Moore.
Malone said he has also spoken briefly with head coach Alain Vigneault, adding he has let it be known he is willing to play any role the coaches see fit for him.
"I think I've always tried to be a well-rounded player, be an asset at all times, play on all four lines," Malone stated. "I feel like I can be utilized in different areas. I have the confidence to play with the big boys, and I can play on a checking line, I'm comfortable either way. As long as I keep going over the boards I'm happy."
Malone likely is to be joined by veteran newcomers Lee Stempniak, Matthew Lombardi, and Tanner Glass in fighting for a roster spot along with youngsters J.T. Miller, Oscar Lindberg, Kevin Hayes, Ryan Haggerty, Jesper Fast, and Danny Kristo.
Training camp officially begins with off-ice physicals on Thursday. The players will then take part in on-ice conditioning tests Friday before Saturday's first practices.
The Rangers kick off their pre-season schedule next Monday with a tilt against the Devils at Madison Square Garden.