Rangers leadership should go beyond a captain

Leadership has been a hot topic for the Rangers.

Between new head coach Gerard Gallant’s assertion that a captain will be named by opening night, the ongoing formation of the team’s core and the emphasis this past offseason on adding players with experience, the dynamic in the Rangers’ locker room is sure to see some changes.

“The most important thing has been the collective group of leaders that we’ve had, a healthy blend of young guys and vets,” said Chris Kreider, who is certainly in the running to be captain as the team’s longest-tenured player and fresh off receiving a seven-year extension. “You can’t just have the right guy wearing the ‘C’ and not have him surrounded by the vets who are going to perpetuate that message. I think as important as that may be, I think having a group of leaders and a group of veterans is obviously very important.”

Kreider cited the Blueshirts’ run to the Stanley Cup final in 2014 — when former captain Ryan Callahan was traded to the Lightning just before the playoffs — as a reason why a supporting cast of leaders is arguably even more important than a captain. The current Rangers, according to Kreider, already have that.

Chris Kreider
Robert Sabo

Mika Zibanejad, who is also an option to don the “C” despite his ongoing contract negotiations, said he tries to lead by example. He acknowledged he may not be one to stand in front of the group each time, but Zibanejad said he likes to take a one-on-one approach.

“Especially after last year and the previous year, the COVID year with the play-in and everything, but still no playoffs for a certain amount of years,” Zibanejad said. “You feel a responsibility as someone who’s played in the league for some time now.”

The Rangers will honor the late Rod Gilbert in several ways throughout the 2021-22 season, beginning with the home opener against the Stars on Oct. 14.

Players are expected to wear white warm-up jerseys, traditionally worn in the 1960’s and 1970’s, with “Gilbert” and his retired No. 7 on the back. Each jersey will be signed and auctioned to support the Garden of Dreams Foundation — a non-profit organization Gilbert, who died in August at age 80, supported.

The Rangers’ jerseys will feature Gilbert’s No. 7 patch during the season.

Additionally, the organization created the Rod Gilbert “Mr. Ranger” award, which will be presented annually to the player “who best honors Rod’s legacy by exemplifying leadership qualities both on and off the ice, and making a significant humanitarian contribution to his community.”

It’s the first time the Rangers have created an award since the Steven McDonald Extra Effort Award and the Lars-Erik Sjoberg Award.

Goalie Keith Kinkaid couldn’t participate in the Rangers’ first on-ice day of training camp due to an upper-body injury. Austin Rueschhoff (lower body), Matthew Robertson (lower body) and Evan Vierling (upper body) were sidelined as well.