The ultimate challenge Rangers face with training camp set to open – New York Post

For the Rangers, the unofficial start of training camp Wednesday marks the beginning of another NHL season with another new head coach facing the same daunting challenge of ending a Stanley Cup drought that’s now going on 30 years.

It may feel like the same old song and dance for this Blueshirts core, who are onto their third coach in the last four seasons, but the championship window inches closer to the sill each year.

This season will be about re-establishing themselves as serious contenders, proving that their run to the conference final two seasons ago was no fluke.

How the players respond to last season’s disappointing first-round exit will dictate their future.

President and general manager Chris Drury spent the offseason bolstering the club’s coaching staff, front office and day-to-day hockey operations.

General manager Chris Drury is looking for new head coach Peter Laviolette to lead the Rangers to their first Stanley Cup title in 30 years.
Charles Wenzelberg / New York Post

There will be fresh perspectives, new voices to be heard and general changes that come with that kind of renovation.

What the Rangers can do in their renewed environment is yet to be seen, but it will be different.

These are the top storylines, in no particular order, to follow as camp unfolds:

Peter Laviolette’s day-to-day work-ethic challenge 

Having led three different teams to the Stanley Cup final over a 21-year coaching career in the NHL, Peter Laviolette is coming into the Rangers locker room with some weight behind him.

Peter Laviolette led the Carolina Hurricanes to the Stanley Cup title in 2006.
Charles Wenzelberg / New York Post

His coaching philosophies appear to be deeply rooted in compete level, work ethic and the general grind of the game.

The Rangers will be expected to immerse themselves in his ways.

Both Laviolette and Drury have expressed a desire for the Rangers to set the tone for the season on Day 1 of training camp, and then maintain it for the entire 2023-24 campaign.

The hope is that there is no switch to flick come playoffs because they will have been competing the same way all season long.

That is the ultimate challenge that is coming from the top of the organization.

Alexis Lafreniere and Kaapo Kakko starting points in the lineup 

It’ll be interesting, and telling, to see where in the lineup Laviolette places Lafreniere and Kakko at the beginning.

Kaapo Kakko (left) and Alexis Lafreniere (right) represent the future of the Rangers’ offense.
Getty Images

Drury made it clear that it’s Laviolette’s lineup card and that he has encouraged his new head coach to look at it with fresh eyes. So wherever they slot in first should tell us how Laviolette perceived the two from afar.

Will Lafreniere immediately start out on his offside on the right wing?

Will Kakko get the first crack at a top-six role?

It’s yet another season of the Rangers’ success somewhat hinging on the play of the lottery twins.

Neither have registered that breakout season, but Laviolette will look to set Lafreniere and Kakko up to do so.

The competition for the sixth defenseman role 

This was a storyline to follow at the start of last season as well, but there is only one player who is back and still vying for the job.

Zac Jones will be battling it out with Erik Gustafsson for the last spot on the defense.

Though he has not played for Peter Laviolette before, Zac Jones’ potential should get him time as part of the Rangers’ third defensive pair.
NHLI via Getty Images

Ben Harpur will also be in the mix, but the expectation is that it will come down to Jones or Gustafsson.

While Gustafsson may have a leg up thanks to his pre-existing relationship with Laviolette from Nashville, the Rangers have organizational stock in Jones.

The Rangers’ 68th-overall pick in 2019 is expected to start the season on the varsity roster, but his role will be decided by his preseason audition.

Newcomers vying to be Rangers 12th and 13th forwards 

Free-agent signings Tyler Pitlick, Alex Belzile and Riley Nash will duke it out for the final roster spots.

They will be up against in-house options Jonny Brodzinski, Jake Leschyshyn, Will Cuylle and Brennan Othmann.

This competition will primarily be for fourth-line roles, unless Othmann proves that he can be a top-nine contributor.

A potential rookie on the opening-night roster 

Cuylle and Othmann lead the pack of rookies with a legitimate chance to earn a spot on the Rangers out of training camp.

Unless either one of the two severely outplays some of the regular candidates, it’s unlikely that the Rangers will have a rookie in the lineup on opening night.

Both will presumably start in AHL Hartford, but never say never. 

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