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News & Notes: McKegg Steps In, Lundqvist Bides Time

Plus: Fox Revisits Roots with Junior Rangers

by Michael Obernauer

Between the rinks and the links, there weren't a lot of places during Training Camp where the Rangers weren't impressed with what they saw out of Greg McKegg. Now the Rangers are ready to give him an opportunity in a regular-season game.

It was only two days into the preseason schedule that David Quinn said of McKegg, "I've liked everything about him." Sure, this was immediately after the Rangers' annual golf outing, when McKegg showed his new teammates that, surprise, he happens to be a scratch golfer, and he and his group won low score at the event. But the Head Coach was referring not to his game on the golf course but to his game against the Devils the night before, when McKegg played 18:32, put three shots on goal (Cory Schneider robbed him on one of them), and won nine of 13 faceoffs. It was enough to earn McKegg three more looks during the six-game preseason slate; those games together with his work in practice convinced the Rangers to keep him aboard as a depth forward on their season-opening roster.

McKegg was an extra forward for the season's first two games, but now that General Manager Jeff Gorton has pulled off the trade with Ottawa that sent Vlad Namestnikov to the Senators on Monday, McKegg will step into the open left wing spot when the Rangers host the Edmonton Oilers on Saturday afternoon at Madison Square Garden - which will be the Blueshirts' first game in a full week.

"They said right from the get-go that this is going to be a competitive camp, and it was," McKegg said on Thursday. "Really I was just trying to get off to a good start and keep it rolling from there, and I think I did that, and I think a lot of guys did a good job of that. I was lucky enough to catch their attention and stick around."

He could have said something similar about his 2018-19 season, when he began the year with 31 games for AHL Charlotte before a Jan. 4 call-up to Carolina. McKegg played in 41 of the Hurricanes' last 43 regular-season games, then 14 of their 15 games during a run to the Eastern Conference final. He provided the Canes with some stability in the middle of their fourth line, and pitched in a couple playoff goals, one of them the game-winner in the clinching game of a second-round sweep of the Islanders. He signed as a free agent with the Rangers on July 1.

He was playing center for the Canes in the playoffs; on Saturday he figures to line up on the left of Lias Andersson, with Brendan Smith on the right side.

"He plays with a pace. He's an honest player. He's had success in this League in that role," Quinn said. "He's coachable too: You tell him something once, he does it. I think he's been in the League long enough to understand how he's going to have to play in order to have success."

McKegg, 27, has been a pro for seven years now, after being a third-round pick of the Maple Leafs in 2010. On Saturday he'll debut for his sixth NHL team, but playing for the Blueshirts will be something of a family affair: McKegg's great uncle was Leapin' Louie Fontinato, the brick-fisted defenseman who played 419 games for the Rangers and was a fan favorite on Broadway in the 1950s and '60s.

McKegg is a veteran of 132 NHL games but says his playoff opportunity this past spring was a different kind of growth experience as a player.

"When you make a run like we did there, you gain some confidence in what you can contribute and you learn to adapt to different roles," he said. "So many different things happen along a playoff run, with guys going down, and moving up and down lineups, and you learn to adapt. And you keep gaining confidence along the way. So that was a good experience for me. I really wanted to carry that into this camp.

"I have been at competitive camps before, but I think it's a credit to what's going on here and how many young guys they have, and how mature they are and how close they are. It's a nice competitive thing to have because it pushes guys to reach that next level."

As for the links, McKegg figures he took a few of his teammates by surprise with his golf game - but also that he might find some formidable competition around the Rangers' room. "Apparently there's a lot of good golfers in here. Brady Skjei? I heard rumors about him, that Skjei can really play," McKegg said. "Might have to get a game in before the weather turns."

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A week without games has every Ranger itching to get back on the ice on Saturday, but the layoff has felt even more pronounced for Henrik Lundqvist, who hasn't played since Opening Night. He made 43 saves in a win over the Jets that night; Alexandar Georgiev went two nights later in Ottawa, stopping 31 shots and putting each goaltender in the win column as the Rangers wait to play again. And wait and wait.

"It's very different," Lundqvist said on Thursday of the layoff. "I was just looking at the board today, obviously we play here on Saturday, but then another four days off - I don't think I've ever experienced this. But you just have to go hard in practice, that's all we can do - stay focused, try to have the intensity high when we practice."

It will be eight days in between Lundqvist's Opening Night start and Saturday's game against Edmonton. The only time he experienced that long a gap between starts last season, he wasn't exactly idle: He finished the All-Star Game tournament with a perfect period as he and the Metropolitan Division team took home the $1 million prize.

"We've been having really good skates, going over a lot of different things that's going to help us as a group," Lundqvist said. "I would rather have this break halfway through the season, but it is what it is. It is definitely an opportunity for us as a team to work on a lot of details within our game."

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If Adam Fox was looking to stay active during the layoff this week, he had no problem finding some skating partners to help him out: During the team's off-day on Wednesday, Fox and Ryan Strome went out to play with some Junior Rangers at Murray's Skating Center in Yonkers. "Always full of energy," Fox said of the Junior Rangers, with whom he skated in the summertime as well.

For Fox, the lifelong Ranger fan who grew up in Jericho on Long Island, the day served as another reminder early in his rookie year of just how much he is living his dream.

"It's obviously cool for the kids, and for me it's really cool to be on this side of it," he said. "When you kind of take a step back, you really think about how you were one of those kids. You can tell how excited they all were, and I know at that age I would have been super excited to see Ranger guys come out and skate with us, that is for sure."
 

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