Counterpunch: Matt Rempe should say ‘no’ to some challengers

NHL: New York Rangers at Columbus Blue Jackets
Russell LaBounty-USA TODAY Sports

Matt Rempe has gone from a prospect in the New York Rangers’ system to a cult hero in a week’s time.

The 6-foot-8, 240-pound winger burst on the scene at the Stadium Series against the Islanders at MetLife Stadium to become the first player in NHL history to debut in an outdoor game. And he wasted little time announcing his arrival by dropping the gloves with Matt Martin.

In the four games since, he’s established himself as one of the top enforcers by accepting all challengers, including Sunday when he had a spirited bout with Columbus’ Mathieu Olivier. Unfortunately Rempe was dazed enough that officials sent him to the locker room rather than having him serve the five minutes in the penalty box, raising some questions about the younger winger.

While he’s exciting the crowd and firing up his teammates, Rempe should learn to say ‘no’ to some challengers.

Latest: NYR Trade Board

Matt Rempe should learn to say ‘no’

NHL: New York Rangers at Columbus Blue Jackets
Russell LaBounty-USA TODAY Sports Credit: Russell LaBounty-USA TODAY Sports

Rempe is filling a role that is becoming nearly extinct. The days of having a player on your roster whose sole job is to fight is going the way of two-line passes and four-on-four overtime.

“He’s definitely made an impact, which is what you need to do as a young kid breaking into the League,” former NHL enforcer John Scott told Forever Blueshirts on Monday. “I think he should be taking on whoever he can, win or lose, it’s what he needs to do to keep his spot in the lineup. He can score, so hopefully he won’t need to fight as often.”

Rempe, though, doesn’t have to be filling that role on a nightly basis. He’s a decent skater for his size, and his physical presence on the forecheck should generate turnovers as defensemen want to move the puck as quickly as possible to avoid getting bulldozed by a mountain of a man.

While certainly not an offensive dynamo, Rempe has a goal and an assist in five games. For reference, Barclay Goodrow has the same amount of goals in 57 games.

Seeing the 21-year-old wobbly after the fight with Olivier, who landed several big shots, was frightening. 

It put Rempe’s fighting totals to four in five games, an unsustainable frequency not only putting his health in danger, but also keeping him off the ice and preventing him from showing what he could bring to the team in terms of actual play.

There’s no discounting the respect and adoration his new teammates have for Rempe. He’s earned the Broadway Hat twice, including at the Stadium Series and again when he scored the game-winning goal Saturday in Philadelphia that led to the Rangers matching a franchise-record with 10 consecutive victories.

At some point, though, does someone — the head coach, the captain, another veteran? — sit down with Rempe to tell him to slow things down a bit?

“There’s conversations all the time,” head coach Peter Laviolette said after Sunday’s loss when asked about Rempe’s fight. “We don’t ever not have conversations about what’s going on. The players are out on the ice and things happen. He came back, gave us some good minutes, and his line scored a goal.”

Laviolette, who went on to praise Rempe’s game against the Blue Jackets, is correct in the notion that things happen on the ice. It’s a physical, fast sport where emotions can take over in the blink of an eye.

The problem is three of Rempe’s tilts were of the staged variety, with Martin, Olivier and Philadelphia’s Nicolas Deslauriers all exchanging words with Rempe during pregame warmups. Rempe’s only “organic” fight came after he plowed through New Jersey’s Nathan Bastian, which led to not only an ejection but a fight with Jonas Siegenthaler that was just a minor for roughing.

Fights absolutely can spark a team on a night when it needs it. The Rangers certainly did Sunday in falling to a last place Columbus team. But the results speak for themselves, as the bout didn’t seem to energize the Blueshirts. In fact, Rempe’s biggest contribution was assisting on linemate Adam Edstrom’s goal that tied the game in the second period.

Rempe is holding himself back by removing himself from the ice for extended periods of time. He’s averaging just 4:00 of ice time, though that number is lower due to him lasting just 13 seconds against the Devils before his ejection following the Basian hit; Edstrom, the other big body on the fourth line, is averaging 8:38.

General manager Chris Drury is looking at all ways to improve his team going into the trade deadline. With the expectation of a right winger and center being added to the top-nine, the trickle down effect could push Rempe out of the lineup entirely.

But Rempe needs to use these next two weeks as an extended audition of sorts, not only for this year but next. He’d likely be in the running for a playoff roster spot in the event of an injury. Him sitting in the penalty box after fighting another player trying to make a name for himself doesn’t do him or his team any favors.

No one is arguing for Rempe to reel in his emotion or to deviate from the game that got him to the NHL. But part of being a successful pro is decision making. When to pinch, when to dump and in Rempe’s case, when to say no to a fight.

If he can’t do it, someone needs to do it for him, for his well-being and the team’s.

Matt Calamia spent six seasons as a digital content producer and writer for the New York Rangers. Prior to... More about Matt Calamia

Mentioned in this article:

More About: