Will Cuylle may get a chance in New York Rangers top-six

NHL: Carolina Hurricanes at New York Rangers
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The New York Rangers are undoubtedly entering a rough patch as we approach the halfway mark of the 2023-2024 season. One of the biggest concerns for the Blueshirts has been consistency throughout the line-up. There have been far too many streaky players on both offense and defense. As a team, consistency issues have been constantly highlighted by Peter Laviolette throughout this stretch.

That being said, one player who seems to always answer the bell in terms of his level of play is Will Cuylle. He has arguably been the Rangers’ most consistent and reliable forwards all season. While he has only recorded 11 points this season (7G-4A), his defensive play and physicality has been a welcome addition to the Rangers line up. Among rookies, Will Cuylle leads the NHL in hits with 99, a wide margin from second place, with only 71.

Due to his efforts, Cuylle may now get a chance on New York’s top line alongside Mika Zibanejad and Chris Kreider. In practice on Tuesday, he was getting looks with them as Laviolette may be seeking to spark that duo into more 5-on-5 scoring.

“It’s practice. It’s an opportunity to pop him in there and see how he does. Just look at different things in practice,” explained Laviolette.

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Will Cuylle may get opportunity in top-six

NHL: Los Angeles Kings at New York Rangers
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A large factor in testing out Cuylle on the first line is the injuries that New York’s forward core has sustained. Laviolette alluded to this as well, mentioning, “We’ve had players that are missing from the lineup. That changes things. If we were healthy, I’m not sure if that would be the move, but we’re not. When you don’t have all of your assets available to you, and you have to fill in different spots, at times, you can try things.”

Laviolette has been forced into line shuffling after keeping them consistent for most of the season. Since December 5th, New York holds a record of 8-7-1. Prior to those 16 games, they recorded only five losses all season. In the Rangers’ last two games against Montreal and Vancouver, they suffered back-to-back losses for only the second time this season. This was highlighted by defensive lapses time and time again, and continued struggles with scoring at even strength.

Of these line-up changes, Will Cuylle first found himself on the fourth line. While many could see this as a demotion, it was actually a nod to the defensive ability of the 21-year-old forward. The fourth line has been the defensive shut down line for New York all season. They are often matched up against opposing teams’ top offensive players, and are responsible for keeping them off the scoresheet.

The Rangers head coach has had nothing but positive things to say about Cuylle to this point. “I still maintain that he’s done a good job defensively, no matter what line he plays on,” Laviolette noted. “His name or his video hardly ever comes up when things need to be adjusted or corrected.”

Not only has Cuylle been playing well defensively, but his offensive looks are beginning to come around, which could also be a contributing factor to his first line promotion. It is important to remember that in his final season in the OHL, Cuylle registered 43 goals and 80 points in only 59 games. He knows how to score and is still looking to find that groove at the NHL level.

This has Laviolette feeling as though Cuylle could compliment both Kreider and Zibanejad.

“(Cuylle) is probably one of our more physical guys. He gets in on the forecheck, he bangs bodies. He and (Krieder) are both net-front guys. For me, he’s a guy who can jump up there and make some noise. He’s also scored seven goals, so he’s put the puck in the back of the net,” said Laviolette.

It will be interesting to see how this experiment from goes. Should Cuylle find himself on the first line right wing when the Rangers take on the St. Louis Blues on Thursday night, One thing is for certain, he’s absolutely earned it the chance. He has worked incredibly hard not only to earn a roster spot, but to maintain it as well. Hopefully, he can impress in this new role.

Dane Walsh is a life-long fan of the New York Rangers. Growing up in the tri-state area, Dane has... More about Dane Walsh