Rangers turn to Jimmy Vesey to replace Blake Wheeler on top line after gruesome injury

NHL: Tampa Bay Lightning at New York Rangers
Wendell Cruz-USA TODAY SportsCredit: Wendell Cruz-USA TODAY Sports

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – When the New York Rangers face off here in the Stadium Series against the Islanders on Sunday, Jimmy Vesey is expected to play on the top line at right wing. A fourth-line stalwart this season, Vesey will take the place of Blake Wheeler, who’s out for the rest of the regular season with a lower-body injury.

Vesey moved up in the lineup Thursday during a 7-4 win against the Montreal Canadiens when Wheeler sustained a gruesome-looking injury in the first period. The 30-year-old forward also skated with Mika Zibanejad and Chris Kreider at an outdoor practice Friday at MetLife Stadium.

“I know Jimmy has played a bunch of different roles in his time in New York here, and some of that has been with Mika and ‘Kreids,’” coach Peter Laviolatte said after practice. “To me, that’s a fit we tried last night and it was seamless. I thought they did a really good job. They produced and generated offense, scored goals.”

Kreider recorded his sixth NHL hat trick Thursday and Zibanejad had a goal and two assists in the victory.

Vesey picked up an assist against the Canadiens and has scored three goals in his past four games, helping the Rangers to six consecutive wins. He’s impressed this season as two-way force on the fourth line and has 12 goals and 18 points in 52 games.

“It feels good to be rewarded, if you will, for good play, but at the same time, it’s tough to see a teammate go down like that,” Vesey said. “It’s pretty awful to see him not be able to get off the ice on his own. Especially a veteran guy that’s been in the League so long and is someone from a previous era, he’s not going to stay down unless he’s hurt.”

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

Jimmy Vesey moves up in Rangers lineup after Blake Wheeler sustains season-ending injury

NHL: Boston Bruins at New York Rangers
Danny Wild-USA TODAY SportsCredit: Danny Wild-USA TODAY Sports

Wheeler was injured after a hit by Montreal’s Jayden Struble. His right leg buckled when he tried to get up off the ice and the Rangers announced Friday that he’s done for the regular season.

“It’s brutal to see,” Vesey said.

Barclay Goodrow expressed confidence that Vesey, his linemate much of the season, will make the most of this opportunity.

“I think it’s all about someone else being given an opportunity to fill that role,” Goodrow explained. “Now, it’s that right wing spot with Mika and ‘Kreids’ and I think Jim’s going to go there and it’s up to him to play well and the make most of it.

“In all my time here with the Rangers, when someone’s gone down, someone’s really stepped in and down the job. It’s happened this year (following injuries to Filip Chytil and Kaapo Kakko) and I expect that to continue.”

Laviolette didn’t commit to which forward will take Wheeler’s spot in the lineup against the Islanders. But there’s a good chance rookie Matt Rempe will make his NHL debut in front of 70,000 fans at MetLife Stadium.

“That’d be a helluva story,” Rempe said with a grin after skating alongside Goodrow and Adam Edstrom at practice.

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

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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