Regarding the Rangers, who have only five days of practice scheduled before the Jan. 14 season opener at the Garden against the Islanders:
- There may be a deficiency in the straight-line grit, toughness and the in-your-face mentality that David Quinn is attempting to instill in the Rangers before they embark on this 56-game tour of their meat-grinder (corporate name deleted) division.
It is a concern, all right, so much talk about having a defensive consciousness without owning a forward line as currently constructed seeming to meet any approximation of a checking line. Maybe units like that are a thing of the past in this post-modern, skill-aplenty era, but it would seem handy to have one on hand.
But it seems here that the Blueshirts’ most glaring deficiency exists at the dots, where the Rangers graded miserably last year and allowed their most reliable (albeit seldom used) faceoff man in Greg McKegg to leave via free agency.
Per Faceoffs.net, the Rangers rated 30th overall, ahead of only the Sabres, at a 46.6 percent success rate. They were 30th at five-on-five and 26th while shorthanded. They were next-to-last, again ahead of only Buffalo, in the defensive zone both overall and at five-on-five. They ranked 20th in the D-zone while shorthanded.
Not a single center on the roster hit 50 percent last season, and McKegg was the only one to chin over that bar in the defensive end. Filip Chytil clocked in at 38.4 percent overall. Brett Howden did win 53.8 percent of his D-zone draws while killing penalties, but he took only 65 faceoffs in that capacity, while Mika Zibanejad (43.7 percent) took 167 and Ryan Strome (31.4 — eek!) handled 70.
So there is an apparent void in that area, even more conspicuous than a potential vacuum in veteran leadership. There are also questions about the makeup and role of the fourth line. But all three issues would be addressed if the Rangers were to invite Brian Boyle, the 36-year-old unsigned free agent, back into the fold. He checks all of the boxes.
And indeed, The Post has learned that the team has checked in with Boyle, who was one of the key forces through the team’s ascension at the start of the last decade. Let’s make it clear. A contract offer is not around the corner. As we understand it, management has advised Boyle that the team is taking a wait-and-see approach with the kids.
(There are, we’ve learned, several clubs who have been in contact with similar messages for Boyle, who thus may not wait and see what happens with the Rangers.)
Boyle has been over 50 percent at the dots in each of his last nine seasons in the league through which he has evolved into a standup leader and the quintessential fourth-liner who kills penalties, wins draws and can move up in the lineup when and if necessary. His personal story, having survived chronic myelogenous leukemia, is of course an inspiring one. He commands respect wherever he goes.
If all goes well, if Julien Gauthier can keep the spot on right wing he’s been gifted alongside Chytil and Alexis Lafreniere, that could allow Quinn to go with a physically formidable fourth line with Brendan Lemieux, Morgan Barron and Howden. But who knows if Barron is ready, there is no guarantee that Howden or Barron might not supplant Gauthier and Lemieux on Wednesday seemed to be at least temporarily out of the mix. Kevin Rooney could be an option. So there is still much in flux.
This is a season about development, but this is not a development league. If the kids get swallowed up, if there is need for more veteran presence, if there is need for more depth, if there is need at the dots, there is a solution out there, and his name is Brian Boyle.
2. It is unclear on which side of the divide Libor Hajek would have fallen had he been available to skate on Wednesday. But the 22-year-old was absent for what was described as a “procedural reason” that presumably was unrelated to his health. That meant Quinn did not have to declare.
But interpreting assignments and partners, Hajek is no better than ninth on the depth chart. In the battle for the third-pair, he has slotted behind K’Andre Miller, Jack Johnson, Brendan Smith and Anthony Bitetto. He had been paired with Darren Raddysh.
Hajek’s chance to make the opening roster seems nil at this point. The question is whether he would be assigned to the taxi squad or whether he’d start with Hartford.
3. Braden Schneider, the 19th-overall pick of the draft who earned silver for Team Canada at the World Juniors, will not be available to the Rangers this season. The team would have needed to sign the defenseman by Dec. 31 to avoid a contract slide. Sources indicate that the club made the attempt but was unsuccessful. The 19-year-old, who will return to Brandon of the WHL, is eligible to be signed in March to a contract that begins next season.
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