New York Rangers depth impressive in the face of key injuries
In recent years, the New York Rangers have been pretty lucky regarding injuries. Sure, there’s been an IR stint here and there; but apart from losing Sammy Blais two years ago to torn ACL, there haven’t been any significant long-term injuries that have kept integral players off the ice.
However, in 2023-24, that luck seems to have run out with several significant injuries hitting the Blueshirts — all longer than a week or a simple day-to-day stint. Despite those hits, the Rangers have managed to deal with the injuries but thrive thanks to incredible depth.
How well did they manage? In the month of November, when these injuries began, the team went 9-2-1for 19 points and a league-leading .792 points percentage.
New York Rangers dealing with injuries
Norris Trophy winning defenseman Adam Fox and second line center Filip Chytil were injured in the same game against the Carolina Hurricanes on November 2nd; Fox with a lower-body injury and Chytil with an upper-body injury (believed to be a concussion).
Fox was immediately placed on Long-Term Injured Reserve (LTIR) by the Rangers the next day, while Chytil was placed on IR. LTIR entails missing at least 24 days and ten games, and thus Fox couldn’t return until the Wednesday, a home win against the Detroit Red Wings. Thankfully, Erik Gustafsson was signed to a one-year deal in the offseason and stepped up to contribute 11 points in those 10 games missed.
Chytil’s status, meanwhile, was changed to LTIR by the Rangers and though he has been skating on his own, he’s not yet considered ready for contact. New York travels to Nashville to face the Predators on Saturday, and Chytil isn’t expected to play.
Given that Chytil was centering the second forward line, the most productive offensive line for the Blueshirts at the time of his injury, the loss of the 24 year-old is rather consequential for the team. Of course, having Vincent Trocheck not only step up but excel speaks to that depth.
Not to be lost in that game was an injury for goalie Igor Shesterkin, that went from day-to-day for 16 straight days. That was easily offset by the hot goaltending of Jonathan Quick, who has been near the top of the league for GAA and save percentage all year.
To round out the injury summary, in the November 27th loss to the Buffalo Sabres, right wing Kaapo Kakko went down with an ugly looking lower body injury. He was placed on LTIR the next day, and is not expected to return until at least December 22nd. Currently, AHL leading scorer Jonny Brodzinski was called up from the Hartford Wolf Pack to help out.
Blueshirts bottom-six depth is stepping up
As already alluded to regarding Trocheck, who has been centering the second offensive line (Artemi Panarin and Alexis Lafreniere) since the Chytil injury, the Rangers have barely missed a beat since losing three integral component players. Zac Jones was the sixth defenseman during Fox’s absence and Erik Gustafsson very ably took Fox’s place — both alongside Ryan Lindgren at even strength, and on the first power play unit.
But what’s been most intriguing to see is how the third and fourth lines have evolved and made an impression since the loss of the two forwards.
Nick Bonino has been the Rangers’ best forward at shot blocking all season, but he’s now scored his first goal as a Ranger and ranks among the best on the team in face-off percentage, at 54.8%. He has a total of 50 blocked shots to date on the season. His line, including Will Cuylle, has been a dominant defensive line for the Rangers — most especially since Trocheck moved up to the second line and Bonino replaced him. Will Cuylle has 55 hits on the season and three goals as well as two assists. His game has been a blend of using his size for defensive purposes as well as skating hard to the net, with a shoot first mentality. Cuylle has 29 shots on goal for the season.
Though Kaapo Kakko had been switched with Blake Wheeler from first line right wing to the third line some games ago, in his absence Brodzinski hopes to turn the third line into an even more intense trio.
“I’m playing with a familiar face with (Will) Cuylle, I played with him the whole year last year — so I’m pretty excited,” Said the Hartford captain on Wednesday. “I play with a lot of speed, intensity; I’ve got a good shot, am good defensively — so when you bring that kind of work ethic, good things seem to happen.”
Meanwhile, the fourth line of Vesey, Goodrow, and Pitlick has been creating some good chances while also being a shutdown unit for head coach Peter Laviolette. Lately, the veteran coach has been matching the fourth line with the top line of some Blueshirts opponents because that line has been so good at defending their own zone.
But in the past week Tyler Pitlick scored his first goal as a Ranger, and has become a crucial puzzle piece in keeping the fourth line relevant in games for New York. He’s got 23 hits on the season, and has not even played in every game. Prior to the Chytil injury, Pitlick and Vesey took turns as healthy scratches for the Blueshirts. Now their line has become a mainstay, at least for the time being. Pitlick plays a smart, hard-nosed game — without taking too many penalties. That’s very valuable to a team that finds itself on the penalty kill as often as does New York.
Former Stanley Cup winner Barclay Goodrow is, as always, dependable; and he has no ego about whether he finds himself digging out the puck along the boards, making defensive plays, landing critical hits on the opponent, or providing an assist to his line mates. As versatile as Goodrow is, that’s also how much leadership he brings to the the Rangers.
Rounding out the fourth line, Jimmy Vesey has evolved his game; and as he said himself on Wednesday night, he’s adapted to being a role player and to not receiving top line minutes anymore. “Yeah, I’ve gotten a lot more comfortable with it the last probably two years… I’m comfortable in my role and I think after the last two years I have a lot more confidence; and I think this year, I’m starting to make a lot more plays out there.”
Vesey scored the game-winning goal on Wednesday night, and considering he started the season as a healthy scratch — he’s in the process of making himself invaluable to a team that relies on its fourth line for two-way play as much as it can.
The lines will be reshuffled once again after the returns of Chytil and Kakko — but until then, the Blueshirts look to be in good hands with the team they’re featuring on the ice.