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Rangers make surprise captain decision ahead of season opener

Rangers make surprise captain decision ahead of season
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About three weeks after training camp started, the in-house Rangers competition has ended with either plenty of winners or none at all.

The Rangers officially have a leadership group, if not an actual leader.

Head coach Gerard Gallant, who had suggested during this preseason that the team would settle upon a captain, instead named six alternates Monday. When issues arise, Artemi Panarin, Chris Kreider, Mika Zibanejad, Jacob Trouba, Ryan Strome and Barclay Goodrow will the ones tasked with leading the group, a team of “A”s without a “C.”

“They’re all legitimate captains. They’re all good leaders,” Gallant said at practice two days before the Rangers season begins in Washington. “Let’s face it: 90 percent of the time when a captain comes to the coach, it’s after he discussed it with six or seven other guys, the veterans.”

In the end, Gallant said, GM Chris Drury let the coach decide what made him most comfortable. Gallant has coached teams with captains, but the Vegas Golden Knights squads that he led from 2017-20 did not have one appointed leader.

Rangers coach Gerard Gallant
AP

The announcement came as a surprise because the first-year Rangers coach said at the start of camp that he thought there would be a captain by the season opener. But he and Drury had cushioned each statement and left open the possibility that the Rangers would not have a captain for a fourth straight season.

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Gallant denied that anything had changed from the start of camp to now and suggested that, while he could change his mind and designate a captain at some point this season, he did not foresee it happening.

Jacob Trouba was among those considered for the Rangers' captaincy.
Jacob Trouba was among those considered for the Rangers’ captaincy.
NHLI via Getty Images

“There was some talk about, ‘We needed a captain,’” said Gallant, who is still getting to know this group. “Well, I really like what we’ve done.”

What they have done is brought back their four alternates from last year — Kreider, Panarin, Trouba and Zibanejad — and added Strome, the 28-year-old center, along with Goodrow, the 28-year-old winger who was signed from the Lightning.

The Rangers were not without options. Kreider, the longest-tenured player on the team, did not need a letter on his chest Wednesday to deal with P.K. Subban after the Devils star got tangled with Ryan Reaves, whose leg bent awkwardly. Kreider did not let Subban forget it, and two wound up fighting off the third-period opening draw.

Trouba, the defenseman entering his ninth season, was believed to be a front-runner for the honor.

A case could be made that Zibanejad deserves the “C,” especially after the Rangers committed $68 million over the next eight years to the first-line center in a deal first reported by The Post’s Larry Brooks on Sunday.

“Both yes and no,” said Zibanejad, when asked if he was surprised by the lack of a captain. “There were talks about it, so I don’t know if that was more the expectations from the outside than maybe in our locker room.

“But definitely happy with the guys we have. We have more leaders than than the guys that have the ‘A’ on the jersey. We have a lot of leaders in our locker room.”

The Rangers have not had a captain since trading Ryan McDonagh in February 2018, the letter going unstitched through the entire David Quinn era. Gallant has only been around the players for about a month. Perhaps in time, with more knowledge of his locker room and its personnel, one face will emerge and with it a “C.”

It is also possible that Gallant did not want to pick one leader over another, although he rejected that notion.

“I’ve never won the Stanley Cup, but I think I’ve had some success in the past with my teams and it worked really well for me,” said Gallant, who took Vegas to the Stanley Cup final in the franchise’s first season in 2017-’18 but lost to the Capitals.

He said the locker room supported the decision.

“That’s obviously something that coach wanted and what he feels comfortable with and so do we,” Zibanejad said.

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