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Ultimate challenge for the Rangers, Peter Laviolette at training camp

For the Rangers, the unofficial start of training camp Wednesday marks the start of another NHL season with another new head coach facing the same daunting challenge: ending a now-long Stanley Cup drought for 30 years.

It may sound like the same old song and the same old song for this Blueshirts core, which is their third coach over the last four seasons, but the championship window gets closer to the threshold every year.

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

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

President and general manager Chris Drury spent the offseason strengthening 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 new perspectives, new voices to hear, and general changes that will accompany this type of renovation.

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

Here are the main storylines, in no particular order, to follow as the camp progresses:

Peter Laviolette’s daily work ethic challenge

After leading three different teams to the Stanley Cup Final during a 21-year NHL coaching career, Peter Laviolette enters the Rangers locker room with weight behind him.

Ultimate challenge for the Rangers, Peter Laviolette at training camp
Peter Laviolette led the Carolina Hurricanes to the Stanley Cup in 2006.
Charles Wenzelberg / New York Post

His coaching philosophies appear to be deeply rooted in the level of competition, work ethic and overall operation of the game.

The Rangers will be expected to absorb his habits.

Laviolette and Drury expressed a desire for the Rangers to set the tone for the season on the first day of training camp and then maintain it for the entire 2023-24 campaign.

The hope is that there will be no change heading into the playoffs, as they will have competed the same way throughout the season.

This is the ultimate challenge that comes from the top of the organization.

Alexis Lafrenière and Kaapo Kakko starting spots in the lineup

It will be interesting and revealing to see where in the lineup Laviolette places Lafrenière and Kakko at the start.

Ultimate challenge for the Rangers, Peter Laviolette at training camp
Kaapo Kakko (left) and Alexis Lafrenière (right) represent the future of the Rangers’ offense.
Getty Images

Drury made it clear that this was Laviolette’s roster card and that he encouraged his new head coach to look at it with fresh eyes. So, no matter where they appear first, that should tell us how Laviolette perceived them from afar.

Will Lafrenière immediately start offside on the right wing?

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

It’s yet another season of Rangers success that’s somewhat dependent on the Lottery Twins playing.

Neither have recorded this breakout season, but Laviolette will look to prepare Lafreniere and Kakko to do so.

The competition for the sixth defender role

This was also a story to follow at the start of last season, but there is only one player who is back and still fighting for the job.

Zac Jones will battle with Erik Gustafsson for the final spot on defense.

Ultimate challenge for the Rangers, Peter Laviolette at training camp
Although he has never played for Peter Laviolette before, Zac Jones’ potential should allow him to be part of the Rangers’ third defensive pairing.
NHLI via Getty Images

Ben Harpur will also be in the mix, but it’s expected to come down to Jones or Gustafsson.

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

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

New arrivals battle to become Rangers’ 12th and 13th forwards

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

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

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

A potential rookie on the opening night roster

Cuylle and Othmann lead the rookie field with a legitimate chance to earn a spot with the Rangers coming out of training camp.

Unless either of the two seriously outperforms some of the regular candidates, it’s unlikely the Rangers will have a rookie on the roster come opening night.

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