New York Rangers positive next man up mentality paying dividends
The New York Rangers have been plagued by the injury bug all season, yet they stand atop the Eastern Conference with a 22-8-1 record.
Impressively, the Rangers earned their superb place in the standings while missing their Norris Trophy winning defenseman, Adam Fox for ten games. The team can also boast that they played 20+ games without 20-goal scorer Filip Chytil, and 10+ without second-overall-pick Kappo Kakko.
Climbing atop the league standings without key parts of the team’s core is a tall task, yet the team did not slow down at all in the absence of key players. The team can thank a newly established next-man-up mentality for continuing their strong play despite some tough adversity.
New York Rangers next man up mentality paying off
With the long-term injuries to a few Rangers’ forwards, Jonny Brodzinski has made the most of his spot in the lineup after his recall from Hartford. Brodzinski has played a utility-knife role with the team, slotting in on lines three and four, and he’s even seen some time on the first line too.
Wherever he has been placed since his return to the team, he has succeeded, matching Kappo Kakko’s point from 20 games in merely three games after his call up. Head coach Peter Laviolette even gave Brodzinski top power play time on December 10th vs the Los Angeles Kings after Mika Zibanejad was assessed a misconduct penalty. Brodzinski would make the most of this opportunity by blasting in his first power play goal of the season against his former club.
It is crucial to have players that can slot in any role when a piece of the core is missing, and Jonny Brodzinski can fill any void on the team with decent speed, a hard shot, and hard work.
When talking about players stepping up, Erik Gustafsson’s contribution to the team cannot be overlooked. In Adam Fox’s absence, Gustafsson slotted in on the Rangers’ top power play unit, and the red-hot special teams group did not miss a beat with him on the ice. Gustafsson’s role has grown throughout the season, and his surge to prominence on this Rangers’ team has their blue line looking like one of the best in the league to this point.
The 31 year-old defenseman was signed to an $800k, one-year deal and has produced 19 points in 30 games to this point, way more than anyone expected prior to this season. Gustafsson’s point totals are good enough for sixth-best in team scoring.
Nick Bonino has also seen his role increase a bit in the absence of Filip Chytil, as he often racks up minutes on the team’s third line with a combination of Will Cuylle and Blake Wheeler or Jonny Brodzinski. While Bonino’s contributions to the goal and point departments have been slim, the 35-year-old vet leads all forwards in blocked shots in the league, by a long shot. Blocking shots at this frequency adds to the selfless, next-man-up attitude that has spread to the rest of the team, even noted by Bonino himself when speaking to reporters.
“I think there’s a culture here of selflessness,” he said. “Everybody will sacrifice whatever it takes.”
The aforementioned Bonino also fell victim to the injury bug, missing the Rangers’ game against the Anaheim Ducks on December 15th due to illness. Taking his place after being called up from Hartford was the colossal, six-foot-seven (listed as six-foot-eight in some cases) Adam Edstrom. Edstrom was unaware that he would be playing that night until Bonino told the 23-year-old that he was the next-man-up that night.
Edstrom described the scene to reporters, “Bones (Bonino) came up to me, at the end of warm up, and he was like I’m not going to play today, so… I was a bit shocked.” The 234-pound Swede made the most of his moment with a great game, topped off with his first NHL goal in the dying seconds of the Rangers’ 5-1 win over Anaheim.
Zac Jones has also played his part in keeping this Rangers’ machine rolling, playing in 13 games with absences to Adam Fox and K’Andre Miller, touting three assists in those contests.
These combined efforts can only leave a good taste in the mouths of the coaching staff, and Rangers’ fans. A team with more than just playoff hopes needs depth that can handle adversity, and the Rangers have plenty of it, even before the trade deadline.