Quietly the Rangers became meaner and harder to play against this offseason
The New York Rangers were bounced by the Carolina Hurricanes in a 3 game sweep from the Qualifying Round. It wasn’t the fact that they lost to a better team, it was more about how they were pushed around in defeat.
In the final game of the series, Brendan Lemieux came back from his two game suspension. For over two periods, he hit every Canes sweater in sight and caused chaos at the goalmouth in the offensive zone.
Rangers give Brendan Lemieux a 2 year deal
There was never really a question about the Rangers letting Lemieux walk. What took so long was his place on the arbitration schedule behind Ryan Strome. In the end, Lemieux signed on for two more years and a fair $1.55 AAV.
Lemieux set career highs on many individual statistics before the NHL pause. The 24 year-old fiery winger had 18 points on the season in 59 games. That surpassed his 17 points in 63 games the year before. When it comes to the stats that really matter for a player like Lemieux, he had 164 hits which was second to only Jacob Trouba’s 173.
The in-your-face Lemieux also amassed a personal best 111 penalty minutes including a team leading 5 fighting majors, and didn’t avoid the league’s heavyweights. That was proven when he went mano-a-mano with Caps bruiser, Tom Wilson earlier in the year.
Brendan’s hockey ability allowed David Quinn to use him on the 2nd PP unit in a similar role to Chris Kreider who attracts traffic in front. This was a player the Rangers had to and wanted to bring back. However, now he will have some more help in the grit department now and in the near future.
Rangers add Jack Johnson and Kevin Rooney in free agency
Jeff Gorton played his tight cap space very wisely this offseason in order to sign his RFAs. He gave out a bunch of one year deals with the objective of adding toughness to the organization.
Two signings in particular will provide immediate help for next season in center Kevin Rooney and defenseman Jack Johnson. Both players will kill penalties for the Rangers and both play the game with a physical toughness.
Rooney clocks in at 6-2′ and has no fear of throwing the hands as Chris Kreider can attest. He will be looked at to play 4th line minutes and make life hell on the forecheck for the opposing defensemen.
Johnson is also very big at 6-1′ and a heavy 227 pounds. At age 33 he is expected to play 3rd pair minutes and even sub out against faster opponents. One thing for certain is that he will be one of the more physical blue-liners the Rangers have when dressed.
Rangers drafted toughness for the near future
The Rangers have known they were easy to play against for a few seasons. They started addressing that when they acquired Lemieux in the Kevin Hayes deal. They also went out and traded for Jacob Trouba and gave Ryan Lindgren a real chance to make the lineup.
Jeff Gorton also realized he needed more and went after it hard this offseason. The first blessing was winning the lottery and drafting Alexis Lafreniere who for all his offensive abilities, plays with a mean edge.
From there, the Rangers traded up to draft meanness and skill on defense with Braden Schneider. That wasn’t enough because Gorton then moved his biggest mistake in Lias Andersson in round two to the L.A. Kings and drafted power forward Will Cuylle.
Rangers trying to balance a contender
There’s no doubt that teams that win Stanley Cups have players that get there’s nose’s dirty. Boston has players like Brad Marchand, Washington has Tom Wilson, while St. Louis played hard and heavy throughout the lineup for their championship.
This season’s Cup champs, the Lightning came to the dance with Pat Maroon (also with the Blues Cup team), and Alex Killorn. So you can see the recipe for a winner is to strike that balance, and it looks like the Rangers are doing just that.
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