Wolski wants spot on Rangers' top line
History instructs us that Rangers coach John Tortorella rides his horses when he has them. We know, too, the coach will go into the season with Brad Richards and Marian Gaborik as a pair of first-line thoroughbreds.
Much of the Rangers’ training camp that commenced yesterday with the on-ice conditioning tests that continue today before pucks enter the equation tomorrow, will be devoted to finding the left wing to ride shotgun with Richards and Gaborik on the first line.
Tortorella said yesterday he intends to look “at a number of guys” and “hopes someone takes the opportunity and grabs it,” but Wojtek Wolski likely will be given the first shot at the coveted assignment with Brandon Dubinsky, the team’s most accomplished and imposing power winger, the logical alternative if the coach isn’t confident that Wolski can get in on the forecheck, win enough pucks and handle the 22 minutes or so a night the job will entail.
This is the season of truth for the 25-year-old Wolski, a Colorado 2004 first-round draft choice who already has been traded twice and is on the final year of his contract that carries a $3.8 million cap charge.
The 6-foot-3, 215-pound winger’s work with the Rangers after coming to the club from Phoenix in exchange for Michael Rozsival early last January was uneven and unimposing enough that he earned a pair of scratches the final three weeks and huge chunks of time on the bench during the first-round playoff series against the Capitals.
In order to get first-line time, or top-six time for that matter, Wolski has to be far more dependable. Yesterday he talked the talk, telling reporters how he adopted an intensive offseason regimen including conditioning work out west with Gary Roberts and power-skating instruction with Barbara Underhill, she who helped save Brian Boyle’s Ranger (if not NHL) career last summer.
“Last year was very disappointing,” said Wolski, who had 19 points (6 goals, 13 assists) in 37 games with the Rangers in which he averaged 14:49 per game. “That prompted me to turn everything upside down [over the summer] because I don’t want to have that feeling again.