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Vigneault Looking Forward to Competition at Camp

Coach says spots available throughout the lineup

by Matt Calamia @MattCalamia /

Count Rangers head coach Alain Vigneault among those excited to see how everything plays out once training camp begins in full on Friday.

The Rangers bench boss said he's looking forward to the competitions throughout the roster following a busy summer that included new faces being brought in via trade, free agency and other moves.

Namely, Vigneault said he's looking to see what players separate themselves from the pack for defensive spots five through eight, as well as who fits where his top-nine up front that Vigneault hopes will have more of a scoring punch.

"You feel the energy," Vigneault told reporters on Thursday after the team completed its medical testing at the MSG Training Center. "You feel a refreshed group, and I'm not just talking about the players. I'm talking about the fans and the staff. 

"Everybody is looking forward to - everybody is excited about the players we've brought in from the veterans that we've added to the group to some of the younger players that everybody has been talking about for a while," Vigneault added. "They're going to get a great opportunity to make this team, so we have a lot of good decisions to make moving forward. There's going to be some great internal competition for ice time and roles on the team and it should make for a great training camp."

Up front the two names on everyone mind are Jimmy Vesey and Pavel Buchnevich, who just completed the Traverse City Prospects Tournament, which Vesey led in goals with five and tied for first with seven points in four games.

"Both their first experience as far as a pro camp," Vigneault stated. "Both had real good games in Traverse City. I think that will help them coming into this camp. They've just got to play and they've got to play within their strengths."

Vigneault said he was excited about the addition of 23-year-old center Mika Zibanejad, whom he feels has not yet reached his full potential after beginning his career with the Ottawa Senators.

"He's a young player that our scouting staff and our management all felt he was on the upswing," Vigneault said of Zibanejad, whom the Rangers acquired as part of an offseason deal for Derick Brassard. "The speed is there. The skill is there. The youth is there. We believe he's not fully developed yet and with the right environment teammate wise, coaching wise, we can get more from [Zibanejad] … we think we have a good, young player we'll be able to work with for some time."

While the core of the defense has returned, Vigneault said there are still positions to be filled on the backend by some new faces brought in over the summer, as well as added responsibility for those returning.

"There's ice time available. There's roles available," Vigneault said, adding the departure of both Keith Yandle and Dan Boyle free up spots in more offensive situations. "There's opportunity there. There's opportunity from a veteran guy like Ryan McDonagh to take a little bit more to a younger guy like Brady Skjei to take a little bit more, to Dylan [McIlrath]. There's opportunities there for defensemen coming to our camp to show their skill set and to grab the opportunity to earn a spot on our team." 

In goal, Vigneault said he and his coaching staff - which now includes former Ranger Jeff Beukeboom - looked at recent workloads by Stanley Cup-winning goaltenders and said they'd like to get Henrik Lundqvist down to around 50 to 58 games this season. Last year, Lundqvist appeared in 65 games. 

Vigneault added that the goal will be even more important this season with a more condensed schedule due to the inclusion of a five-day break each team receives throughout the season.

All told, the lone Ranger nursing an injury is Oscar Lindberg, who had offseason hip surgery. Vigneault also stated he planned on giving some rest to players taking part in the World Cup of Hockey, with those players playing deeper into that tournament to receive a more extended break upon their arrival at training camp.

While there are decisions to be made, Vigneault said often times, the coaching staff aren't the ones making them.

"The players make the decisions for us by how they're playing."

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