Rugged defensemen Stu Bickel did not take part in Sunday's scrimmage due to a sore back, but he did participate in Monday's morning skate at the MSG Training Center and will be in the lineup this evening in the Rangers pre-season opener against the Devils at the Prudential Center.
Head coach Alain Vigneault confirmed after the morning skate that Bickel was healthy enough to play. Rookie Dylan McIlrath took part in the morning skate as the seventh defensemen as a precaution in case Bickel would not be able to go against New Jersey.
The game on Monday, as well as this entire training camp and pre-season, are extremely important to Bickel, who is fighting for a spot on the varsity. Two years ago Bickel established himself as an NHL player on a first-place team by appearing in 51 NHL games and totaling nine points and 108 penalty minutes. He also played in 18 of the Rangers' 20 post-season games that spring. But last year, despite being in the Opening Night lineup, Bickel appeared in just 16 NHL games, going scoreless with 49 penalty minutes, before finishing the season in the AHL.
"I've liked what I've seen, so far," Vigneault said of Bickel Monday morning. "He tested real well, and you see that he's anxious and he's willing. That's why we have these six exhibition games to sort (the roster) out and to look to put the players in the best possible place so that we can win as many games as we can."
With all six of last year's Top Six defensemen---Marc Staal, Dan Girardi, Ryan McDonagh, Michael Del Zotto, Anton Stralman, and John Moore---healthy and on this season's roster, Justin Falk and Aaron Johnson acquired this past summer, and former first rounder Dylan McIlrath sure to get a long look, the Rangers' defense corps is deep and skilled. But Bickel is in tremendous physical condition and looking forward to trying to crack the NHL roster.
"I am not looking back to last year, there's no reason to do that," stated Bickel. "I am anxious and excited to see what I can accomplish this season."
Bickel will be joined by Staal, Del Zotto, Moore, Falk, and Johnson on the blueline Monday in Newark.
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