Richards joins Rangers mix for season of promise

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New York also added toughness with the signing of former Pittsburgh and New Jersey forward Mike Rupp, who along with Brandon Prust will be counted on to fill the enforcer role. The Rangers open this season still mourning Derek Boogaard, the team’s former tough guy who died in May after his only season with New York.

The Rangers returned to the playoffs last season for the fifth time in six years after a one-year absence, but failed again to get out of the first round. New York has been eliminated by Washington in both postseason appearances under Tortorella and has gotten to the second round only twice during this run.

Just making the playoffs might not be good enough anymore, especially with a star-studded lineup that carries great expectations.

The Rangers could be poised for a long stretch of success because their core _ outside of the 31-year-old Richards and 29-year-old Gaborik _ is very young. They are led up front by dynamic forward Ryan Callahan, who at 26 is taking over as captain for the retired Chris Drury, the feisty Brandon Dubinsky, Derek Stepan, and Artem Anisimov.

Callahan missed the series against Washington because of a broken leg, an injury that nearly cost New York a spot in the playoffs. The Rangers got in on the final day when they beat New Jersey and got some help from Tortorella’s old Lightning team that knocked out the Carolina Hurricanes.

Richards will be counted on to impart his experience on his new spry teammates, too.

“I kind of had a little bit of that role the last few years in Dallas, playing with some young guys on my team and on my line,” he said. “Our team was kind of going in that same youth movement there, too. I enjoy it. It’s fun.

“I had a lot of help when I was young and remember all those days and experiences of how veterans helped me. I try to do the same with the young guys now. It’s a huge help when you’re young if you know people are on your side.”

The Rangers also have talented youth on defense, too, but they start the season with concern as Marc Staal is dealing with post-concussion symptoms that stem from a hit delivered by his brother in a game in February. Staal has already been ruled out of New York’s upcoming exhibition games in Europe, and is questionable at best for the season opener against Los Angeles on Oct. 7 in Sweden.

In addition to Staal, the Rangers are anchored on the blue line by Michael Sauer and Dan Girardi, with Ryan McDonagh and Steve Eminger. Michael Del Zotto and others filling out the unit.

As is always the case, Rangers defensemen have a bit of a safety net behind them with stalwart Henrik Lundqvist in goal. Lundqvist extended his NHL record with his sixth consecutive season with at least 30 wins to start a career.

But this season will already have a different wrinkle to it for Lundqvist, who will play the first two games of the regular season in his native Sweden. That will be just the start of a long haul for the Rangers, who will play their first seven games on the road _ including a four-game trip out west after they return to North America _ before their home opener on Oct. 27 against Toronto.

Whether the Rangers are ready to make a jump this season into a serious Stanley Cup contender remains to be seen, but with veterans such as Richards, Gaborik and Lundqvist steering the ship of youngsters led by Captain Callahan, New York seems to be built for the long run.

“It’s not a one-time thing with this team. You can see it growing,” Richards said. “There is going to be a window of years here that if we can keep growing, keep getting better _ it would be great if it was this year, but it’s not just this year that I am looking at. When I signed here it was because they are building something here and I am still young enough to be a part of that.”

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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