Rebuilding Rangers debut new lineup at Canucks

VANCOUVER, British Columbia — The auditions are about to begin.

But, first, come the introductions.

Some New York Rangers (27-30-6) will be getting to know each other Wednesday as they visit the Vancouver Canucks (24-32-6). The Rangers are expected to have a number of players acquired in Monday’s National Hockey League trading deadline in their lineup.

Defenseman Rob O’Gara and Vladimir Namestnikov are among the players expected to make off-Broadway debuts after being acquired in deals that defenseman Nick Holden to Boston and sent former captain Ryan McDonagh and center J.T. Miller to Tampa Bay. Center Ryan Spooner is also expected to suit up after moving to the Rangers from Boston as part of the Rick Nash trade before the deadline.

The game will also serve as part of the audition process for employment with New York in 2018-19.

“There’s plenty of opportunity here for guys to step up and show that they’re NHL players,” general manager Jeff Gorton told Newsday. “We have a lot of young guys in the lineup — defensemen, our backup goalie now moving forward, some new players in (Ryan) Spooner and Namestnikov,” he added. “For guys that have been here, they have to cement their place here and show that they want to be part of it. For young players, they need to prove they belong in the league, that we should be looking at them for next year. As we’re moving forward, we’re going to be looking for anything and everything that makes us better.”

The Rangers, who have lost seven straight games and appear destined to miss the playoffs for the first time in eight seasons, hope to get more offense as a result of the deals, but also shook up their defense corps.

Young defensemen Yegor Rykov, acquired from the New Jersey Devils in a trade for Michael Grabner, and Ryan Lindgren, picked up from the Bruins as part of the Nash trade, and Libor Hajek, a piece of the McDonagh and Miller transaction, will try to strut their best stuff between now and the end of the season.

“Defense is an area where I think, it’s a very important piece of where we need to go as far as building our team,” Gorton told Newsday after the Nash trade.

While the newcomers get settled, veterans will try to adjust to the changes. Coach Alain Vigneault told Newsday on Tuesday that he and some veteran players are “entering unchartered waters” after the multitude of changes four years after the club was in the Stanley Cup finals.

“(McDonagh) wasn’t with us anyway (due to injury), so I feel like I’m just gonna go back to New York and he’s gonna be in the room,” Marc Staal told Newsday after a practice in Vancouver on Tuesday. “That hasn’t really, I don’t think, sunk in yet. “Millsy, obviously, was on the flight with us, so we had some time to kill once the deal went through. It’s hard. It’s hard to see friends and teammates — we’ve been through a lot together over the last bunch of years — see them move on.”

Meanwhile, the Canucks, rebuilding in their third straight non-playoff year, are making adjustments following the deadline, too. They have to deal with winger Thomas Vanek’s departure to Columbus on Monday. Before moving to Ohio, Vanek was Vancouver’s second-leading scorer. His absence was felt almost immediately as the Canucks bowed 3-1 to the Avalanche in Denver on Monday night.

The Canucks had a day off Tuesday, so it remains to be seen whether forwards Tyler Motte, a 22-year-old prospect, and 34-year-old veteran Jussi Jokinen, who is with his fourth team this season, will play against the Rangers. Brendan Leipsic, a 23-year-old acquired from Vegas for defenseman Philip Holm, a rookie who played one NHL game — on Sunday — against the Golden Knights, appears likely to see considerable action between now and the end of the season.

“I work hard,” Leipsic, a prolific scorer in junior who has not turned the red light on frequently in the NHL with Vegas and Toronto, told a Vancouver radio station. “I’m an energy guy and feel I’ve got pretty good skill to make plays. With more confidence, maybe there’s a bigger role (to play) and my offensive game will come around.”

Like Gorton, Canucks GM Jim Benning has pledged to give young players more opportunities in the final part of the season.

Many fans wanted to see the Canucks obtain relatively high draft picks on deadline day. But captain Henrik Sedin likes the fact that the club acquired some young players with NHL experience instead of basing their hopes on picks that might not pan out.

“We know what (Motte and Leipsic) can do and, hopefully, they can give us something going forward,” Sedin told reporters.