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Preview: Rangers' Youngsters Front & Center vs. Flyers

Final Garden Tune-Up for Blueshirts

by Michael Obernauer

Two days after the Rangers put together their presumptive regular-season top line for the first time, the No. 1 unit for Thursday's game gets a youth movement. Vitali Kravtsov and Filip Chytil will flank Mika Zibanejad when the Blueshirts host the Philadelphia Flyers at Madison Square Garden. It is Game No. 5 of the 2019 Preseason -- the last one at the Garden before the Rangers return for Opening Night in one week's time -- and an opportunity for Chytil, just turned 20 years old, to play a little top-line wing after beginning the preseason in the middle, and for Kravtsov, still 19, to skate on the left side of a righty-shot No. 1 center in Zibanejad, in Kravtsov's fourth game of his first NHL training camp. In his third, he opened the scoring against the Islanders on Tuesday at the Garden.

"We'll look to see how they play in general, to see how they handle that responsibility," David Quinn said of his two youngsters. "It's a good opportunity for them."

Thursday night's Ranger lineup will include four rookies -- Kravtsov, Kaapo Kakko, Libor Hajek and Igor Shesterkin -- as well as second-year men Chytil, Lias Andersson and Brendan Lemieux, against a Flyers team that has just about put its NHL roster into place. Kakko will skate on the right side of Ryan Strome and Chris Kreider, while Shesterkin and Henrik Lundqvist will dress as the goaltenders.

Hajek, meanwhile, should get a chance to pair with Jacob Trouba on the blue line, where Tony DeAngelo will be making his preseason debut. DeAngelo joined his teammates in practice for the first time on Monday and says physically he is feeling up to speed -- ahead of where he was a year ago at this time -- and credits the offseason work he began almost as soon as the 2018-19 schedule was finished.

"I feel like this is the best shape I've been in in years -- I came into camp late and I feel like I didn't miss any time," DeAngelo said. "So it feels really good. I'm sure in the game I'll feel a little bit different -- when you're going every couple shifts and going as hard as you do in the game, it's a little bit different than practice. But it's not going to take me very long. I think it'll be fine."

"You're looking for him to pick up where he left off last year," Quinn said. "Obviously a good second half (including 18 points in his last 29 games). I thought he did a lot of things that he's going to need to do to be the player we know he's capable of being at this level. His puck skills speak for themselves, and I think the defending piece, the gap control, defending with his feet and his stick … if he does those things with his puck skills, he's going to be a well-rounded player."

To that end, DeAngelo said he did more specific skills work over the summer than he has in years past, and he also had more time to do it. A nasty ankle sprain ended his 2017-18 season in March and forced him to rehab through the summer; this past offseason, he began his program in mid-April.

"So then you got what, five, six months almost of training in," he said. "So if you're not in shape by then, you got something wrong with you."

"It's going to be a good test for him, and it's going to be good for him to get a game like this in," Quinn said, adding: "Against a lineup that's going to be as close to an NHL lineup as you're going to see in preseason."

That was mostly true of the Flyers the last time these teams met this preseason, this past Saturday in Philadelphia. The Flyers' cuts on Tuesday left their roster at 27 players, four over the regular-season limit; Thursday's game at the Garden is their final preseason match before they head to Europe, where they will start the regular season in Prague.

Carter Hart, who made 11 saves in 40 minutes against the Rangers on Saturday, and has not allowed a goal in 70 preseason minutes, is pegged to play the full game for Philly.


PROJECTED LINEUP

74 Kravtsov -- 93 Zibanejad -- 72 Chytil
20 Kreider -- 16 Strome -- 45 Kakko
48 Lemieux -- 50 Andersson -- 90 Namestnikov
14 McKegg -- 15 Nieves -- 95 Lettieri

43 Hajek -- 8 Trouba
18 Staal -- 77 DeAngelo
76 Skjei -- 42 Smith

30 Lundqvist
31 Shesterkin

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