Rangers open up new sea­son with vet­eran core

Daily Freeman (Kingston, NY) - - FRONT PAGE - By Rachel Co­hen AP Sports Writer

After last sea­son's quick play­off exit, Rangers go into a new cam­paign with few changes made to the heart of their ros­ter.

After two deep play­off runs, the New York Rangers’ 2016 post­sea­son fiz­zled out quickly.

Even­tual cham­pion Pitts­burgh dis­patched them in five games in the first round, the last two by a com­bined score of 11-3.

“Now, ob­vi­ously, there is go­ing to be some changes,” coach Alain Vigneault said a few days later. “There are still some very good pieces. We have to de­cide in which di­rec­tion we’re go­ing to take.”

The di­rec­tion he and gen­eral man­ager Jeff Gor­ton wound up de­cid­ing to take was mostly to give it an­other go with those good pieces. The changes over the off­sea­son came mostly around the edges of the ros­ter.

The big move was a trade of cen­ters, send­ing Der­ick Bras­sard to Ot­tawa for Mika Zibane­jad, who is quite a bit younger — and cheaper.

Vet­er­ans Dan Gi­rardi, Rick Nash and Marc Staal are back after dis­ap­point­ing sea­sons, and the great­est change in 2016-17 could sim­ply come from any or all of them re­cap­tur­ing their pre­vi­ous form.

Hen­rik Lundqvist will turn 35 dur­ing the sea­son. The Rangers will give their re­turn­ing core at least one more chance at a ti­tle in front of the 2012 Vez­ina Tro­phy win­ner be­fore the win­dow closes.

“The hunger for the game and to com­pete is, I think, the same,” Lundqvist said dur­ing the World Cup of Hockey as he thought back to the start of his Rangers ca­reer.

Along with Zibane­jad, New York’s most notable ad­di­tions were also younger play­ers. Some mem­bers of the Rangers’ youth movement to watch:

JIMMY VE­SEY

The Hobey Baker win­ner as col­lege hockey’s top player, Ve­sey chose to pur­sue free agency after his se­nior sea­son at Har­vard in­stead of sign­ing with Nashville, which drafted him 66th over­all in 2012.

Ve­sey picked the Rangers over seven other fi­nal­ists in August.

“It seemed that they re­ally needed to have me in their lineup,” he said at the time.

The 23-year-old for­ward had 24 goals and 22 as­sists in 33 games for Har­vard last sea­son.

ZIBANE­JAD

Zibane­jad is also 23 and al­ready has two 20-goal sea­sons in the NHL. He set ca­reer highs with 21 goals and 30 as­sists in 81 games for the Se­na­tors last sea­son.

Bras­sard, who just turned 29, had a ca­reer­high 27 goals last sea­son.

“I think the po­ten­tial is there for more up­side,” Gor­ton said of Zibane­jad. “He is just scratch­ing the sur­face at age 23. There are not a lot of guys who have done what he has done as far as scored 20 be­fore that age.”

PAVEL AND PIRRI

Pavel Buch­nevich, a 21-year-old Rus­sian left wing who was a 2013 thir­dround draft pick, is look­ing to prove he’s ready to make an NHL ros­ter. Bran­don Pirri, a 25-year-old cen­ter, had a ca­reer-high 29 points last sea­son but has al­ready been traded twice in his ca­reer. The Rangers signed him to a $1.1 mil­lion, oneyear deal from Anaheim.

J.T. MILLER

The Rangers also kept one of their own, sign­ing re­stricted free agent for­ward J.T. Miller to a $5.5 mil­lion, two-year deal. An­other 23-year-old, Miller had 22 goals and 21 as­sists, both ca­reer highs, last sea­son.

“I don’t want to be sat­is­fied on one pretty good year,” he said.

•••

FRANK FRANKLIN III — AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

New York Rangers goalie Hen­rik Lundqvist stops a shot on goal by Philadel­phia Fly­ers’s Wayne Sim­monds (17) dur­ing an Oct. 6 ex­hi­bi­tion game at Madi­son Square Gar­den in New York. LAST SEA­SON: 46-27-9, 101 points. Third in Metropoli­tan Di­vi­sion. Lost to Pitts­burgh Pen­guins in Eastern Con­fer­ence first round. COACH: Alain Vigneault (fourth sea­son, 15th NHL sea­son). ADDED: F Jimmy Ve­sey, F Mika Zibane­jad, F Bran­don Pirri, F Pavel Buch­nevich, F Michael Grab­ner. LOST: F Der­ick Bras­sard, D Keith Yan­dle, F Eric Staal, D Dan Boyle, F Vik­tor Stal­berg. PLAYER TO WATCH: Jimmy Ve­sey. Celebri­ties such as Dar­ryl McDaniels of Run-DMC, ac­tress Su­san Saran­don, and ath­letes on other New York teams tweeted at the prized col­lege free agent as he con­tem­plated his op­tions this sum­mer. The Hobey Baker win­ner as col­lege hockey’s top player as a Har­vard se­nior last sea­son, Ve­sey had de­cided against sign­ing with Nashville, which drafted him 66th over­all in 2012. OUT­LOOK: After an in­con­sis­tent reg­u­lar sea­son and an un­der­whelm­ing per­for­mance in the first-round loss to even­tual cham­pion Pitts­burgh, the Rangers are mostly stick­ing with their vet­eran core to make an­other run at a ti­tle in front of goal­tender Hen­rik Lundqvist, who turns 35 in March. Their hopes rest on a com­bi­na­tion of older play­ers bounc­ing back from rough sea­sons and younger ad­di­tions adding speed to the ros­ter.

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