Next opponent could decide lineup fate for popular Rangers rookie

NHL: Stanley Cup Playoffs-Washington Capitals at New York Rangers
Wendell Cruz-USA TODAY Sports

There’s no denying the impact Matt Rempe has had this season for the New York Rangers even with his limited ice time. After playing a key role in helping the Rangers sweep the Washington Capitals in the Eastern Conference First Round, his status in the lineup is up in the air moving forward.

On Tuesday night, the Carolina Hurricanes will host the New York Islanders in Game 5 of their best-of-7 series. If the Hurricanes win, they will advance to face the resting Blueshirts. The Hurricanes are a far superior team to the Capitals in every facet of the game, highlighted by speed and puck possession, which could jeopardize Rempe’s spot on the fourth line.

Now, if the Islanders can pull off a miracle and advance after losing the first three games, Rempe stands a much better chance of remaining with Jimmy Vesey and Barclay Goodrow. The Islanders play a slower, heavier game, and feature the likes of Matt Martin and Cal Clutterbuck in their bottom-six.

An Islanders series win is unlikely, though. A late season rally and a complete collapse by the Philadelphia Flyers helped the Islanders earn third place in the Metropolitan Division after Patrick Roy replaced Lane Lambert as coach in January. An impressive feat, but they entered the postseason with the second worst goal-differential at -17 (Capitals were a -37) with their grinding style.

Rempe matches better against the Islanders than the Hurricanes. That may, or may not, matter to the Rangers, who appear to have a decision to make on the rookie in the second round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

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NHL: Stanley Cup Playoffs-New York Rangers at Washington Capitals
Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

Rempe, 21, made his NHL Playoffs debut by scoring the opening goal for the Rangers this postseason. Although that was his only point in the four-game sweep over the Capitals, he was a monster with 18 bone-jarring hits in just 6:46 of ice time per night.

“I can’t think of a player that’s come in and had that impact on a team, on a fan base, on a city,” explained coach Peter Laviolette after Game 1. “If you watch him and look at him, he just smiles. He’s just happy. He loves being here, loves to play the game. He’s been great.”

At 6-foot-8, the rookie is an imposing figure that instills a level of fear and trepidation in the opposition defense. Those feelings have only increased after Rempe blasted Washington defenseman Trevor van Riemsdyk in Game 3, knocking him out of the series.

“I thought it was a clean hit,” Rempe pushed back on the Capitals accusation it was dirty. “I just went through the body. You never want anyone to get hurt, and I’m sorry to hear about that. I was just trying to play hard, move my feet, and be physical.”

Heavy hits, not fighting, are really why Rempe is feared and despised by many across the League. On several occasions during the regular season, he steamrolled and injured players. Toronto’s Ilya Lyubushkin, along with New Jersey’s Nathan Bastian and Jonas Siegenthaler have all been on the receiving end of some bombastic blasts. The latter earned him a four-game suspension for elbowing.

Psychologically, Rempe’s presence, even at just over five minutes per game, may be a weapon that Laviolette would like to keep in play. Defensemen who feel rushed tend to make poor decisions with the puck and may increase the amount of turnovers they commit, which could be a huge advantage against the speedy Hurricanes.

Another factor that could play a role in Rempe’s lineup status is the possible return of injured center Filip Chytil.

The 24-year-old’s addition would bring another level of skill to the team’s third line. Alex Wennberg could shift to the wing to accommodate and Will Cuylle could replace Rempe on the fourth line. As for Chytil, he registered just six assists in 10 games in a top-six role before sustaining a suspected concussion against the very same Hurricanes on November 2. If he can return to face them, it will give Chytil a chance to exact some revenge.

The other option if Rempe comes out of the lineup is to have Jonny Brodzinski take his spot. Laviolette often discussed how Brodzinski’s speed and versatility sparked the Rangers lineup this season.

Decisions loom for the Rangers as they await their next opponent, primarily whether or not Rempe stays in the lineup. In the end, this is a testament to their depth which could be their biggest advantage in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Anthony Scultore is the founder of Forever Blueshirts and has been covering the New York Rangers and the NHL... More about Anthony Scultore

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