There will be many new faces in the lineup for the Rangers when the puck drops tonight against the Islanders, even by preseason standards.
All told, 11 of the 20 Rangers dressed in tonight's exhibition opener have never appeared in a regular season game with the Rangers, including the highly-touted rookie forward Pavel Buchnevich, newly acquired Mika Zibanejad and free agent Brandon Pirri.
The team's top line of Zibanejad, Buchnevich and Chris Kreider has garnered rave reviews from head coach Alain Vigneault over the last two days, and is expected to be the Rangers' top power play unit against the Islanders.
"I like very much playing with them and we'll see how the game goes," Buchnevich said through a translator Monday on playing with Zibanejad and Kreider. The 21-year-old stated his linemates have been helpful for him in communicating as the Russian continues to learn English and get acclimated to America.
"Really skilled," Zibanejad said of Buchnevich. "Can pass the puck very well. Fun to play with. A lot of speed. Same with Kreids. It's a good combination for me."
Buchnevich, who signed with the Rangers in May after the organization drafted him in the third-round in 2013, said he couldn't help but be a bit nervous about playing at Madison Square Garden for the first time.
"I try not to stay nervous, of couse, but of course I feel tomorrow I will feel it before the game," Buchnevich said with a smile.
Although Vigneault praised the young winger, he added that Buchnevich still must go through the "process," but that he's made strides since June's prospect camp, especially in his ability to communicate with his teammates.
"With Buch, we have to understand here, we have a young player that's got a tremendous amount of upside, but we've got to help him with the process," Vigneault said. "We've got to help him with the process. His English has imporved quite a bit, and hockey-wise, from what I saw at development camp to what I'm seeing now, you can tell the potential that's there."
Pirri, 25, signed with the Rangers in August after splitting last season between Florida and Anaheim, when he scored 14 goals and 15 assists for 29 points in 61 games. Pirri is known throughout the League for his shootout prowess, including going 5-for-6 a season ago. He is expected to skate alongside fellow newcomer Josh Jooris and prospect Nicklas Jensen.
Another youngster making his MSG debut is Swedish winger Robin Kovacs, who will play on the team's third line with Marek Hrivik and and fellow Swedish rookie Malte Stromwall.
Kovacs, 19, posted 21 goals and 13 assists for AIK IF of Allsvenskan last season, and had a strong Traverse City Prospects Tournament last week when he scored two goals in four games.
"I'm excited," Kovacs said after Monday's practice, which included a pair of goals while the team worked on its power play. "To play in Madison Square Garden has always been a dream. To play for the Rangers, it's awesome."
While there are many new faces throughout the lineup, the defensive group is a bit more familiar, with Marc Staal, Dan Girardi, Brady Skjei and Dylan McIlrath all dressing. Free agent Adam Clendening is expected to get top-pair minutes witih Staal, while Hartford (AHL) captain Mat Bodie is penciled in with McIlrath.
Magnus Hellberg and Mackenzie Skapski are expected to split the load in net for the Rangers. Hellberg, 25, went 30-20-3 last season with the Wolf Pack, while Skapski went 4-7-0 with Hartford, but spent a majority of the season with Greenville (ECHL).
The Islanders opened its preseason schedule Monday night with a 3-0 win over the Philadelphia Flyers. In addition to Tuesday's game with the Rangers, the Islanders will also face the Flyers in Philadelphia.
Rangers vs. Islanders
7 PM at Madison Square Garden
Watch on MSG Network