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New faces make roster cuts even harder

by Staff Writer / New York Rangers
Forward Ruslan Fedotenko, a player Rangers head coach John Tortorella knows well, showed veteran savvy when he calmly kicked this puck over to Derek Stepan for the 20-year-old's first preseason goal.

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By Jim Cerny,

There are many different ways for a player to impress his coaches during the course of a hockey game, and working his way onto the scoresheet is probably the best way to be recognized by the end of the night, especially when that player is battling to make the team.

Four players in that exact position put their names on the scoresheet by recording points on Wednesday night when the Rangers defeated the Detroit Red Wings 5-1 in a preseason contest played at Madison Square Garden.

Rookie center Derek Stepan scored a goal and added an assist; veteran winger Ruslan Fedotenko notched a pair of primary assists; defenseman Mike Sauer scored his first goal of the preseason; and Russian rookie Pavel Valentenko earned an assist on Stepan’s third-period goal.

“We have to keep banging away at it here, practice (Thursday), and then see where it falls,” Rangers head coach John Tortorella said of the looming final cuts he will have to make to the club’s roster. “We play a good team in Ottawa (on Friday and Saturday) and then we’ll have to make some decisions.”

Wednesday’s strong performances by a group of players considered to be “on the bubble” only makes Tortorella’s decision-making process that much more difficult.

Playing in his third preseason game, Stepan picked up his second and third points, and scored his first goal. After earning an assist on Sean Avery’s goal at 4:39 of the first period, Stepan accepted a neat kick pass from Fedotenko in the slot and deposited the puck into the back of the net at 1:38 of the third period.

“It was like getting a monkey off my back because I was kind of gripping the stick a little tight, so it felt good to finally tap one in,” explained Stepan, 20. “I’m just trying to keep it simple, but it’s very hard. Each night I go to bed, doing numbers in my head, doing lines in my head. It’s non-stop (thinking about making the team).”

While Stepan may be consumed with this thought process inside of him, he projects a very calm, confident demeanor on the outside. It is something that his teammates and coaches have taken notice of.

“He plays very mature and very solid,” said goaltender Henrik Lundqvist, who looked in midseason form with 35 saves on Wednesday. “Sometimes when you are young and just coming into the league, you don’t think, you just play. You focus on trying to do everything right. It seems like that is what he is doing. He’s had a very good camp.”

Stepan’s linemate Fedotenko also continued his strong preseason play with another multiple-point effort. Fedotenko now has five points (one goal and four assists) in three games, tying him for the team lead along with Alexander Frolov (one goal, four assists) and Michael Del Zotto (two goals, three assists).

Rangers center Derek Stepan is congratulated after scoring his first preseason goal on Wednesday night. Stepan's two-point performance was a big boost in his bid to land on the opening-night roster.
Like Stepan, Fedotenko earned an assist on Avery’s goal, which gave the Rangers a 2-0 lead early in the opening period. He also assisted on Stepan’s goal with a very subtle pass, chipping the puck with his skate right to Stepan.

“Feds flies under the radar, I think,” said Tortorella. “He makes subtle plays and is just a solid guy. He is a guy where I can look down the bench and trust him in any situation.”

As far as thinking he has the team made, because of his strong training camp and preseason, Fedotenko harbors no such thoughts.

“I don’t think at all, I just go and play and if they want to keep me, they keep me,” said Fedotenko, 31. “If not, then I will move on to the next phase of my life. I am trying not to think about it.”

Sauer and Valentenko both kept their chances of making the roster alive with strong outings on Wednesday, as well.

Sauer, who played just under 20 minutes, blocked a game-high four shots and blasted a slap shot off the far post and in with 58.1 seconds left to play in the first period. His goal came off a beautiful behind-the-back pass from Erik Christensen,

“I don’t know that (the coaches) have me pegged as a really offensive guy, so any time I can contribute it’s always a bonus,” said Sauer, 23. “To get that goal obviously boosts your confidence out there. And I felt really good on the PK, blocking shots, because that’s part of my game making sure (the opposition) has to work for everything they get.”

Valentenko, who was bloodied on the nose when struck by an errant stick early in the first period, also made his way on to the scoresheet when he picked up the other assist on Stepan’s goal. Valentenko delivered a game-high four hits and registered a plus-two plus/minus mark in 15:41 worth of ice-time.

“This is my favorite thing to do,” Valentenko said of leading the team in hits on Wednesday. “I was nervous at first, didn’t feel really good. After the first hit, though, I started to play my game.”

Originally Tortorella planned to make more cuts to his current 27-man roster following Wednesday’s contest. However, with the “bubble” players performing so well, the team may hold off a bit longer before making any further decisions.

The Rangers’ final two preseason games will come this weekend. They will host the Ottawa Senators on Friday night at The Garden and then travel up to Ottawa for a rematch on Saturday night.
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