Rangers’ competition ‘is real’ in preseason

Maybe it was hyperbole.

Rangers coach David Quinn, nevertheless, was right in the fact that there has been a fair amount of competition in training camp, with a lot on the line in the preseason. To project the roster right now isn’t easy, and a lot of determining how the Blueshirts will look when they host the Jets on opening night, Oct. 3, is up to the performance of the players between now and then — along with a stalemated contract holdout.

“It’s real. The competition is real,” Quinn said before his team got a day off practice Thursday to participate in their golf outing, having opened their preseason Wednesday night with a 4-3 loss to the Devils at the Garden. “I said to our guys before training camp — I think you’d be hard-pressed to find a training camp in our league that has more opportunities.

“Not just from making a roster standpoint, but from putting yourself in a spot on the roster. These games mean an awful lot. Looking forward to seeing what these guys can do.”

Quinn has gone out on a limb and made one early roster declaration, and that is Pavel Buchnevich will get the first look on the right side of the top line next to Artemi Panarin and Mika Zibanejad. It is a golden opportunity for the 24-year-old Buchnevich, who has had quite a few ups and downs over his first three years in the NHL but is being counted on after signing a two-year, $6.5 million deal as a restricted free agent this summer.

Quinn still couldn’t help himself in getting a look at the No. 2-overall pick from June’s draft, Kaapo Kakko, deciding to put the 18-year-old Finn in Buchenvich’s spot on that top line for the exhibition opener. Kakko delivered, showing the poise, vision and skill that made him such a highly touted player.

The coach said that is still Buchnevich’s spot, but Kakko wasted no time in showing he belongs. When Kakko was asked Wednesday night if he’s feeling more comfortable every day, he went back to his refreshingly confident refrain.

“I don’t think so,” he said with a shrug. “It feels so good, every day.”

f the 21-year-old Howden centers the fourth line, that might put Greg McKegg — who turned some heads in the exhibition opener — on the outside looking in. That assumes the fourth line has Brendan Lemieux on the left and Jesper Fast on the right.

All of that excludes Vitali Kravtsov, the 19-year-old Russian taken with the No. 9-overall pick in 2018, who might be best suited to start his North American tenure with the Wolf Pack. Also on the fringes are Boo Nieves, Vinni Lettieri and Phillip Di Giuseppe.

The defense seems to have only one spot open, and it is Tony DeAngelo’s to have if the restricted free agent can ever get over his contract holdout. The top pair seems set with Brady Skjei and Jacob Trouba, while Adam Fox seems ready for prime time on the right side, either with fellow youngster Libor Hajek or veteran presence Marc Staal.

So the third-pair righty spot is open, with Ryan Lindgren possibly going to his offside. Veteran Joe Morrow is in on a tryout, battling with Darren Raddysh, Joey Keane and Brandon Crawley for a depth spot. (This is also assuming Brendan Smith clears waivers and is sent to AHL Hartford, saving salary-cap space.)

Answers will keep coming as the preseason schedule continues with Friday night’s game against the Devils in Newark.