Blake Wheeler out rest of regular season in latest blow for Rangers

NHL: Calgary Flames at New York Rangers
Brad Penner-USA TODAY SportsCredit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – Blake Wheeler will miss the rest of the regular season for the New York Rangers after sustaining a lower-body injury Thursday against the Montreal Canadiens.

The 37-year-old forward was placed on long-term injured reserve Friday and NHL Insider Elliotte Friedman reported that “a postseason return is considered unlikely.”

It’s a big blow for the Rangers, who also lost center Filip Chytil to a season-ending upper-body injury believed to be a concussion in January.

The Wheeler news broke when the Rangers were preparing to practice outdoors here at MetLife Stadium ahead of their Stadium Series game against the New York Islanders on Sunday.

“When you lose a veteran player like him that has such an impact in the room, that’s tough to replace,” coach Peter Laviolette said. “Certainly our thoughts are with him and a healthy recovery at some point. That’s a tough one last night. We’ll miss him.”

Reaction: Rangers players talk about ‘heartbreaking’ injury to Blake Wheeler

Blake Wheeler sustained lower-body injury in Rangers’ win against Canadiens

NHL: Washington Capitals at New York Rangers
Wendell Cruz-USA TODAY SportsCredit: Wendell Cruz-USA TODAY Sports

Wheeler sustained the gruesome injury midway through the first period of New York’s 7-4 win Thursday after a hit by Montreal’s Jayden Struble. The Garden crowd was silent watching Wheeler try to stand up, only to fall back to the ice when his right leg buckled.

The veteran was in major distress and was eventually helped off the ice and to a waiting stretcher.

“You never really want to see anyone, but especially a teammate and friend, go down like that,” Mika Zibanejad said postgame Thursday.

Related: Blake Wheeler injury should remove Kaapo Kakko from Rangers’ trade talk

In the short term, the Rangers recalled rookie forward Matt Rempe from Hartford of the American Hockey League. Laviolette didn’t commit to Rempe playing Sunday. However, the coach said Jimmy Vesey likely will move onto the top line in Wheeler’s place alongside Zibanejad and Chris Kreider.

Laviolette called Vesey, who has 12 goals in 52 games playing on the fourth line, a “seamless fit” with Zibanejad and Kreider. Vesey has produced recently with three goals in his past four games.

Even before the Wheeler injury, the Rangers appeared set to swing a deal for a top-six right wing ahead of the NHL trade deadline March 8. Frank Vatrano was an excellent fit with Zibanejad and Kreider in 2022 and makes sense as a trade target. Reunions with Vladimir Tarasenko (Ottawa Senators) and Anthony Duclair (San Jose Sharks) are also options.

Wheeler has 21 points (nine goals, 12 assists) in 54 games this season, his first after signing a one-year, $800,000 contract with the Rangers during the offseason.

“He’s been amazing since he’s been here,” Laviolette said. “He comes into work every day positive, hard working. You saw even before training camp started that he was in there early and was committed to being part of this team and make it successful. He did that both in the room and on the ice.”

Jim Cerny is Executive Editor at Forever Blueshirts and Managing Editor at Sportsnaut, with more than 30 years of... More about Jim Cerny

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