Will Cuylle earns admiration of Rangers coach, captain during impressive rookie season

NHL: Los Angeles Kings at New York Rangers
Danny Wild-USA TODAY SportsCredit: Danny Wild-USA TODAY Sports

You may not see Will Cuylle’s name mentioned with the likes of Connor Bedard or Brock Faber when it comes to Calder Trophy discussion. But that doesn’t mean the New York Rangers aren’t thrilled with what the rookie forward has given them this season.

“He’s a fun player to watch,” Rangers captain Jacob Trouba said Monday after Cuylle scored the game-winner in a 2-0 victory against the Calgary Flames.

It’s not a flashy style that makes the 22-year-old so much fun to watch. Instead it’s the effort Cuylle puts forth on every shift, as well as his physicality and mature approach on both sides of the puck.

Cuylle leads the Rangers and all NHL rookies with 170 hits in 53 games. He scored his ninth goal Monday in typical grinding fashion, going to the net to bang home the rebound of a Kaapo Kakko shot at 12:31 of the second period.

“Just trying to get to the net. Just trying to simplify,” Cuylle explained. “I knew it’d probably be a rebound goal or something dirty in the crease, so I was just trying to get to the net.”

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Will Cuylle has simple style, impressive results as Rangers rookie

NHL: New York Rangers at Vegas Golden Knights
Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY SportsCredit: Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports

That simplistic approach is the beauty of Cuylle’s game. Likely none of his goals this season have come from further than 10 feet out. Most have been under five feet as the rugged 6-foot-3, 210-pound wing routinely crashes the crease.

“He gets in on the forecheck and he’s physical,” Trouba shared. “I think that’s something every team needs and something our team needs. He’s filled that role. He’s stepped in and done a really good job at it. It’s not just the hits, he provides some offense, plays hard, mixes it up a little bit.”

Cuylle is tied for seventh among rookie goal-scoring leaders. Each of the players tied with or ahead of him average at least two minutes more in ice time per game. Most play five minutes or more per game than Cuylle’s average of 11:19.

Peter Laviolette sees Cuylle as a perfect fit on the third line, especially with Artemi Panarin and Chris Kreider ahead of him on the depth chart at left wing. And the Rangers coach is impressed with the 2020 second-round pick, who scored 25 goals in 69 games as a rookie pro with Hartford of the American Hockey League last season.

“I think there’s been a steady growth,” Laviolette said. “I think you get more confident the more games you play. He always brings physicality but I think as you get a little more comfortable, you might try to do a little bit more with the puck in regards to offense.

“He’s been pretty responsible defensively. For most of the year, he’s done a pretty good job at realizing dangerous situations with the puck. He does a good job recognizing coverage.”

In other words, the kid has been the whole package, playing an every-game role on a first-place team with Stanley Cup aspirations.

Lately, Cuylle has been joined on the third line by center Jonny Brodzinski and right wing Kaapo Kakko. Despite trade rumors that the Rangers could be in the market for a 3C like Adam Henrique, this line is making the case to stay together. 

Cuylle and Kakko each has three points (one goal, two assists) in the past five games; Brodzinski has a three-game point streak and five points (three goals, two assists) in his past five games.

Interestingly, the Rangers have won each of those five games for their second-longest winning streak of the season.

“I think we’ve been playing well lately,” Cuylle said. “I think we complement each other well and I think we’re all just on the same page.”

Though no one is promoting Cuylle’s Calder candidacy, the Rangers are thrilled with the rookie’s play this season. And they understand his style of play will be important some playoff time.

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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