Rangers rookie must find ‘balancing act’ in NHL, Islanders enforcer warns

Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

As Matt Rempe tries to establish himself as a regular in the New York Rangers lineup, he’d do well to look across the ice Tuesday at UBS Arena at someone who’s been in his skates before and carved out a respectable 15-year NHL career.

Matt Martin will play his 951st NHL game when the New York Islanders host Rempe and the Rangers on Tuesday. He’s a great example of being one of the League’s best fighters, yet a trusted fixture in the lineup, as well.

“He’s obviously trying to make a name for himself,” Martin told the New York Post on Monday. “There’s certainly a line, I guess, that we all try to walk in terms of being effective and efficient and not costing your team at the same time. He’s a young kid. I’m sure he’s gonna figure out all those aspects of it. I’m sure his coaching staff’s talking to him about it.

“But he’s laying it all on the line and obviously he’s trying to make a name for himself and stick in this league, which is what all kids dream about. He’s been impactful for them. But he’s still gotta find that line and walk it consistently, keep himself on the ice a little bit more.”

Related: Stu Bickel recalls prior Rangers-Devils line brawl, praises Matt Rempe in podcast interview

Matt Rempe ‘gotta prove’ he can play regular shift for Rangers, Matt Martin says

NHL: New Jersey Devils at New York Rangers
Credit: Wendell Cruz-USA TODAY Sports

Rempe began his NHL career by fighting Martin on his first shift in his debut in front of 79,000 fans outdoors at MetLife Stadium in February. Since then, there’ve been four more fights, including the Main Event against Kurtis MacDermid in a line brawl against the New Jersey Devils last week, a team-leading 69 penalty minutes and a four-game suspension for elbowing Devils defenseman Jonas Siegenthaler.

The 21-year-old rookie is averaging slightly more than five minutes in ice time over 15 games played, and been kicked out of three games already, severely cutting into his opportunity to actually play.

But the popular forward has also shown signs that he can be an effective forechecker and responsible defensively on the fourth line. Rempe has 44 hits and is a plus-two, to go along with one goal and one assist.

“You gotta prove you can play and take a regular shift,” Martin offered.

Former rugged Rangers defenseman Stu Bickel, now an assistant coach with Coachella Valley in the American Hockey League, echoed similar sentiments in an interview with Forever Blueshirts.

“The game is definitely changing, it already has changed quite a bit since I was doing it, so you can’t be one dimensional, you have to be able to play the game,” Bickel explained. “You see the skille level of the young players coming up, so you have to be a really good player even in that role. … You have to be a bit more well-rounded these days.”

With the start of the Stanley Cup Playoffs less than two weeks away, Rempe is trying to prove in the final four regular-season games that he deserves a spot in the Rangers lineup. Proving to coach Peter Laviolette that he can be trusted to play smart and pick his spots is key for him.

Recent lineup decisions seem to indicate Rempe will be the 13th forward when the playoffs commence, and Jonny Brodzinski will remain in the lineup. If so, Rempe still has plenty of runway in front of him to carve out a respected career like Martin, especially if he proves himself as an all-around player.

“Hopefully for him, he’s just trying to carve out a career for himself,” Martin said. “He’s just gotta find that balancing act.”

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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