- Katie Strang, ESPN.com
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The New York Rangers, who open camp Friday, made a hasty exit from the playoffs last season, losing in five games to the Washington Capitals. They hope some key offseason signings will help them become Stanley Cup contenders this year.
1. Spotlight on Richards: The Rangers were big winners in July when they lured coveted free agent Brad Richards to New York with a nine-year, $60 million deal. The addition of Richards gives them the dynamic first-line center they lacked last season -- someone who can be counted on to produce offensively and distribute the puck.
2. More from Gaborik: The team also hopes Richards can coax the most out of sniper Marian Gaborik, who is expected to flank him on the right wing. After a career season in 2009-10 -- 42 goals and 86 points -- the 29-year-old winger scored only 22 goals last season and was incredibly streaky. Ten of his goals were scored in three games, all against non-playoff teams. If the Rangers want to do damage in the playoffs, they need him to score -- when it counts.
3. Third defensive pairing: Defense was a strength for the Rangers last season, and given the youth on the back end, it will be for years to come. Top-pair defensemen Marc Staal and Dan Girardi were counted on to match up against opponents' top lines all year, and they had a tandem of solid young blue-liners behind them in Ryan McDonagh and Michael Sauer. Young defensemen Tim Erixon, Michael Del Zotto and 27-year-old Steve Eminger will battle for the fifth and sixth spots. Brendan Bell could also garner a look, although he will likely be used as a call-up guy from Hartford.
• C Brad Richards: The 31-year-old veteran will feel the burden of the monster contract he signed and the expectation that goes with it, but he's a proven scoring threat with a Stanley Cup championship on his résumé.
• LW Mike Rupp: the 6-5, 230 pound bruiser, who racked up 124 penalty minutes with Pittsburgh last season, will add size and toughness to the Rangers' fourth line. The 31-year-old former Devil will also be a high-character veteran presence in the room.
• D Tim Erixon: The Rangers traded for the 20-year-old Swedish defenseman in June in what might soon be regarded as a steal. As the son of former NHL'er Jan Erixon, Tim has a strong hockey IQ and the potential to be effective on the power play.
Ryan Bourque, son of NHL legend Ray Bourque, is likely to start the season with the team's AHL affiliate in Hartford, but the 20-year-old forward stood out among his peers and impressed many during a recent prospect tournament in Traverse City, Mich.
By developing a strong group of young players and adding key free agents to complement that core, the Rangers have the talent and skill to be dangerous in the future. What remains to be seen is whether they can make the next stop now.
96dPierre LeBrun and Joe McDonald