The predicament Rangers face with prospect Brennan Othmann

For those clamoring for hockey in August, tune into the 2022 IIHF World Junior Championship tournament on NHL Network. Not only will it help pass the time until the Rangers take the ice for training camp at the end of September, but there are seven Rangers prospects representing five different countries on the international stage.

The baby Blueshirt to watch so far has been Brennan Othmann, the No. 16 overall pick in the 2021 NHL Draft.

Othmann has recorded two goals and four assists in four games, including the opener in Canada’s 6-3 victory Monday over Finland. Three of those points (a goal, two assists) came in an 11-1 beatdown of Slovakia last Thursday after Othmann was a healthy scratch for the group-play opener against Latvia. The left winger also took a nasty hit from behind by fellow Rangers prospect and Czech skater Jaroslav Chmelar, who was ejected for the infraction, before dishing a massive check of his own on Blue Jackets prospect David Jiricek in Canada’s 5-1 win over the Czech Republic on Saturday.

Othmann, who scored 50 goals and racked up 97 points in the Ontario Hockey League last season, is in a unique spot heading into Rangers training camp. Because the 19-year-old is not eligible to be assigned to the team’s AHL affiliate, the Hartford Wolf Pack — due to the fact that he won’t turn 20 until Jan. 5 — Othmann will either make the Rangers’ opening-night roster or be assigned back to the OHL.

Asked during last month’s Rangers development camp if he felt like he accomplished all he needed to last season in the OHL, Othmann was definitive with his answer.

Canada's Brennan Othmann (15) is congratulated for a goal against Slovakia during the first period of an IIHF world junior hockey championships game Thursday, Aug. 11, 2022, in Edmonton, Alberta.
Brennan Othmann has had the kind of performance at the world junior championship that shows why the Rangers drafted him No. 16 overall in 2021.
AP

“I feel like I was one of the best players in the league,” he said. “I accomplished all my goals I set out [and] the goals that [me] and the [Flint Firebirds] set out for our organization. I did a good job myself this year. I wanted to be a top-five player in the league, and I think I established that.”

Considering a majority of the Rangers’ (pre-trade deadline) lineup is returning for the 2022-23 season, Othmann would have to seriously impress management to earn a spot. Plus, fellow Rangers prospect and countryman Will Cuylle’s NHL-ready build and playing style likely has him ahead of Othmann on the depth chart. Even given that the AHL is not an option, it’s hard to see the Rangers fast-tracking Othmann to the varsity roster — unless he dominates training camp, of course.

And if he did turn heads during camp, Othmann still would probably have to flip to his off side on the right wing. His playing style would really only work in the top six, and the Rangers hope those spots will be filled by the likes of Alexis Lafreniere, Kaapo Kakko or maybe even Vitali Kravtsov.

If Othmann is assigned to the OHL, the Rangers won’t be able to recall him during the season. To sum everything up, it’s safe to say Othmann is a long shot to make the Rangers’ opening-night roster.

Othmann was noncommittal when asked whether he feels as if he has anything left to prove in the OHL, but he did admit he had some unfinished business.

Brennan skates in the New York Rangers development camp in Tarrytown, New York.
After helping Flint get to the OHL’s Western Conference Final, Othmann says the only thing he has left to prove at that level is that he can guide a team to a title.
Bill Kostroun

“[T]he only thing I need to prove is to be able to win,” he said. “I want to win a championship. We lost in Game 7 of the Western Conference Final, and we were so close. It was right there at our fingertips and we kind of just let it slip.”

Scouting staff additions

The Rangers announced new additions to their scouting staff: Garth Joy will serve as the associate director of player personnel and director of pro scouting, and Andy Schneider will serve as the director of North American amateur scouting.

Joy joins the Rangers from the reigning Stanley Cup champion Avalanche, for whom he had been a scout since 1998. Schneider spent a total of seven years as an amateur scout/head of CHL scouting for the Blue Jackets and Devils.

Mailbag

Thanks to our Texts from the Blue Seats subscribers for some last-minute questions.

Who is the favorite for the sixth D-man slot, and will the pairings remain the same as last year? Do you think the Rangers will invite a veteran left defenseman to camp on a professional tryout?
Jan Levine, Kerry DeMarco, David Parmele

I wouldn’t say that head coach Gerard Gallant is married to the previous defensive pairings, but there is some comfort in familiarity. The Jacob Trouba-K’Andre Miller tandem was easily the most effective last season, but since the third pair was always a weak point, it may prompt management to test other combinations. The last thing the Rangers want to do is jumble their defensive pairs, separate Adam Fox and Ryan Lindgren for the first time in a couple seasons and send the D corps into chaos, but it may be worth trying out to spread the wealth instead of loading up the top two duos.

New York Rangers defenseman Zac Jones (6) skates with the puck in front of Vancouver Canucks center Matthew Highmore (15) during the third period at Madison Square Garden.
With little cap room to maneuver for a veteran defenseman, the Rangers likely will give Zac Jones and a few of his young teammates a chance to play their way into the regular defensive rotation.
USA TODAY Sports

The Rangers can’t afford to bring anyone else in, so a PTO likely isn’t on the table unless there are accompanying roster moves. At this point, I’d say Zac Jones, Matthew Robertson and yes, Libor Hajek are the front-runners to round out the Rangers defense.

Rangers fan since 1968, so I thoroughly enjoyed the run this year, but looking back and forward I’m left wondering if Chris Drury [hamstrung] the club by overpaying for Barclay Goodrow last year and losing everything from the trade deadline deals. Right now,  I don’t see the team as any better, unless the kids really step up this year. Your thoughts?
Charles Taber

Charles, you hit the nail right on the head with this one. So much of the Rangers success this upcoming season will hinge on the young forward group in Lafreniere, Kakko, Kravtsov and Filip Chytil. But given their promising performances during the playoffs, it’s a gamble worth taking, in my opinion. It’s true, the Goodrow signing may not pan out in the long run given the Rangers’ cap circumstances. As my dear colleague Larry Brooks pointed out in late July, Goodrow and Ryan Lindgren may be cap casualties at some point after this upcoming season.

Is Kravtsov trade bait or are the Rangers hoping he’ll be a top-six forward?
—  Tim Maher

Vitali Kravtsov #74 of the New York Rangers as the New York Rangers beat the Philadelphia Flyers 2-1 during a preseason game at Madison Square Garden. Thursday, September 26th, 2019.
After refusing to report to the Rangers’ AHL affiliate last season, Vitali Kravtsov will get another chance to prove he belongs in New York at training camp.
Anthony J Causi

We all know what happened last season, when Kravtsov declined an AHL assignment and went home to play in the Kontinental Hockey League, so his standing with the organization is in his hands going forward. It would be ideal for the Rangers if Kravtsov can make the opening-night roster, especially because of his $875,000 cap hit. Kravtsov will definitely be one of the top players the front office is evaluating during training camp.

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