Tom Wilson’s comments rightfully pointed out New York Rangers deficiency they needed to address
The Rangers’ lack of grit was a common theme throughout last season. After adding pieces this year in order to improve in that area, they face a test to prove they are actually different. Tom Wilson recently made a comments that put a spotlight on the Rangers issues.
Tom Wilson’s comment proves last year’s Rangers were missing something
Obviously, the Tom Wilson ordeal confirmed what had been suspected about the Rangers all season: that they were too soft. The incident made it clear that the players didn’t have defined roles, something Chris Drury is working to remedy. Per Washington Hockey Now, Wilson said “It shouldn’t be a guy like Panarin jumping on my back… That whole situation — I won’t speak to it too much — but he shouldn’t feel like he ever should have to do that. So there are things in the game of hockey where teammates stand up for each other and stuff.”
Possibly the most concerning part about this comment is that Wilson is right. Artemi Panarin shouldn’t be the guy to jump into that kind of situation. Panarin is easily the Rangers’ most valuable offensive player. He needs to be protected. He wanted to stand up for Pavel Buchnevich and therefore went after Tom Wilson, but it doesn’t make sense from a strategic standpoint. Your top player risking their safety is never something you want, and in Panarin’s case it had consequences. He was out for the remainder of the season with an injury sustained during the scrum.
Panarin put himself in that position when others didn’t. Not only is this an indication that the Rangers were lacking a real enforcer, but also that it was unclear who should assume such a role should an event like this occur. Wilson’s statement just illustrates that the league was aware of this vulnerability and that it truly does matter even in this era of NHL hockey.
Rangers offseason additions and remodeled lineup will be put to the test
The most notable offseason addition is Ryan Reaves. He understands his role as an enforcer and takes it seriously.
“I’m not here because of Tom Wilson. I’m here because of what players like Tom Wilson brings to his team, and Cal Clutterbuck and (Matt) Martin bring to their team,” Reaves declared. “It doesn’t matter what the player is, what team it is, whether we’re out east or out west. I’m holding everybody accountable. It doesn’t matter what happened last year. It matters what happens this season and everyone is going to be held accountable when they go up against our team.”
The 6′ 2″, 225 lbs winger should be instrumental in turning the fourth line into more of an identity or checking line that makes other teams so successful. If he can stay in the lineup consistently, he will make a measurable difference. But one player is not enough to solve the grit shortage.
The Rangers also acquired Sammy Blais from St. Louis in exchange for Buchnevich. Blais plays fourth line minutes and in the last two seasons, has become very physical. In 2019-20, he recorded 155 hits through 40 games and in 2020-21, he recorded 103 hits through 36 games. He has the size for this kind of play at 6′ 2″ 205lbs. He does seem to be fairly injury prone. But if he can stay healthy, he will be effective on the fourth line with Reaves on the other side and either Kevin Rooney or Morgan Barron at center.
With these moves along with the general message and understanding that the team must be more physical and willing to fight, the Rangers will be tested. They will have to prove to the league that they can no longer be taken advantage of. The Rangers are going into this season with more defined roles than they did last season, especially in this department. So now players like Panarin can be smarter about physical situations and let others handle them. The team is better prepared heading into this season.
Note: All stats came from hockeyreference.com
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