Hockey Maven says massive Rangers forward needs to improve skating, not fighting skills

NHL: New York Rangers at Toronto Maple Leafs
Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY SportsCredit: Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports

Matt Rempe began the Stanley Cup Playoffs by crashing the net and scoring the first goal for the New York Rangers in their four-game sweep of the Washington Capitals in the first round.

The goal certainly put a jolt into Madison Square Garden. But Rempe’s appearances throughout his rookie season in the NHL were known more for his willingness to fight some of the League’s heavyweights than for his skill.

Rempe is trying to improve that aspect of his game this offseason by taking fighting lessons with former NHL heavyweight Georges Laraque, who racked up 1,126 penalty minutes in a 12-year career for the Edmonton Oilers, Phoenix Coyotes, Pittsburgh Penguins, and Montreal Canadiens.

The social media posts on Instagram and X, formerly Twitter, by Laraque led legendary hockey reporter Stan Fischler to opine that Rempe should focus more on his skating than his fighting. Writing for the Hockey News, Fischler said skating should be more of a focus because everyone knows about his fighting ability.

“Matt Rempe has launched his summer on the wrong foot; or should I say fists?,” Fischler wrote.

“Rempe, the largest player in the National Hockey League, should not be learning how to fight because we already know that he’s two fisted and scary.”

Fischler contends Rempe’s lack of skating ability is a hindrance.

“Several NHL experts – not to mention scouts – have pointed out that the Rangers late-season phenom has a major weak area; he’s a cockeyed skater,” Fischler reported.

For his part, Rempe said during breakup day after the Rangers were eliminated by the Florida Panthers in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Final that he wants to improve his skating ability and become more of a trusted option for coach Peter Laviolette.

“I want to bring more to the table,” Rempe said. “I want to be a guy that can play 8-to-12 minutes every single night in a role. I grew up as a centerman. I want to play center or wing. I think I can play both positions. I want to be really good defensively. I want to eventually be a penalty killer, but I’ve just got to earn all these things.”

It was his fighting skills that helped Rempe to burst onto the NHL scene, though.

His first big moment for the Rangers was fighting New York Islanders tough guy Matt Martin on his first NHL shift during the Stadium Series at MetLife Stadium on Feb. 18. The fight with Martin was one of five bouts in his first nine NHL games and those included fights with former Rangers enforcer Ryan Reaves of the Toronto Maple Leafs and Nic Deslauriers of the Philadelphia Flyers – in the same game where Rempe scored his only regular-season goal.

Rempe’s most prominent fight occurred April 3 against Kurtis MacDermid as part of a line brawl to start a game against the New Jersey Devils. The incident took place after the 6-foot-8 forward received a four-game suspension for elbowing New Jersey defenseman Jonas Siegenthaler on March 11.

WATCH: Mollie Walker talks 2024 Rangers offseason on Forever Blueshirts YouTube channel

Matt Rempe prepares for 1st full season with Rangers with help from Georges Laraque

NHL: New Jersey Devils at New York Rangers
Brad Penner-USA TODAY SportsCredit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

Fighting is one aspect of Rempe’s game but he needs to tighten up all areas if he’s to earn Laviolette’s trust next season. To his credit, Rempe toed the line late in the season and throughout the playoffs, avoiding fights but still playing a physical game.

In 11 postseason games, though, Rempe’s most minutes were the 10:06 he played in Game 2 against Florida. By Game 5 of that series, Rempe played a mere 2:43 and was scratched for Game 6.

The 22-year-old should hope that working with Laraque will pay off in other areas and not just fighting. Laraque scored 13 goals in 2000-01 with the Oilers and 24 points (five goals, 19 assists) for the Coyotes and Penguins in 2006-07.

Laraque’s retired when the NHL was starting to move away from teams deploying players specifically known for fighting. Though fighting still exists, it is hardly as prominent as it was in the days of “The Big Bad Bruins” or the “Broad Street Bullies” in the 1970s.

But as long as it’s allowed in the rule book, it will be a part of Rempe’s game.

And since Laviolette has said multiple times that Rempe can be a good NHL player, taking fighting lessons from Laraque is simply one area he’s seeking to improve, which could lead him to being a vital part of the fourth-line now centered by Sam Carrick next season.

Larry is a sports media veteran who has worked for all of the top wire services as a writer... More about Larry Fleisher

Mentioned in this article:

More About: