Will Cuylle meeting New York Rangers expectations in the early going

When Will Cuylle came up to the New York Rangers from the AHL’s Hartford Wolf Pack last season, it was for a short stint — and he made a good impression. In four games, the Blueshirts prospect skated for an average of 6:58 minutes ice time, earned zero points, notched a +/- of -2, served 10 minutes in penalties, and delivered eight hits while blocking zero shots.

As a result, in this year’s Rangers training camp, the now 21-year-old knew he had to have a bigger impact in hopes of making the NHL team roster for opening day.

By the end of training camp (and five exhibition games played), the young Canadian hoped it was clear he was ready to start the season at the NHL level, and that he’d convinced both Rangers head coach Peter Laviolette and general manager Chris Drury to award him a place on the early season roster.

He absolutely did.

“I think last year was a really good opportunity for me, [to] sort of see what it’s like; [to] get to go on a quick road trip to Toronto and see what that’s like — [to] get to play on the road,” explained Cuylle after earning a spot on the Blueshirts. “And I think just being around the guys definitely gave me a lot of motivation throughout the summer to be back here.”

Related: Rangers down Kraken 4-1

How Will Cuylle made it to the NHL

NHL: New York Rangers at Seattle Kraken
Oct 21, 2023; Seattle, Washington, USA; New York Rangers left wing Will Cuylle (50) clears the puck against the Seattle Kraken during the third period at Climate Pledge Arena. Mandatory Credit: Steven Bisig-USA TODAY Sports

Three years ago, Will Cuylle was a second round Rangers selection in the NHL entry draft — a pick attained in exchange for Lias Andersson, traded to the Los Angeles Kings. At the time, the young forward was playing for the Ontario Hockey League’s (OHL’s) Windsor Spitfires, and already had a reputation for being fast and physical.

“I can see myself anywhere with the way I play,” said Cuylle at the time. “I’d be a good supporting role for a top center. The way I play, fast and physical, is important on any line to get in on the forecheck,” the OHL winger continued. “Separate guys from the puck and make simple plays…so whether that’s me being on the third or the fourth line as an energy guy throwing the body around — or on the first or the second line, scoring goals using my body strategically.”

Last season was the first and only season in which Cuylle played over 60 games exclusively in the AHL and NHL. His journey to starting a season in the NHL has been comparatively short; and he holds great promise for the Blueshirts’ future.

Primarily a left winger, the versatile forward has played significant portions of his career on the right side since his junior hockey days. “I feel comfortable in both positions, but the biggest challenge on the right is breaking the puck out on the half wall, and turning the other way,” he observed back in 2020. “It takes a split second longer because you’re so used to turning the other way.”

Cuylle’s early season with the Rangers

Cuylle is solidified a spot on the third line with Vincent Trocheck and Blake Wheeler. He’s a good fit because of his speed and style of play.

Through five games on the young season, Cuylle is earning the respect of his line mates and his head coach. He’s already scored one even-strength goal on four shots on goal, and his +/- to date is +1. He’s taken one minor penalty (in Saturday night’s game), and has almost doubled his average ice time from last season to 13:21. He’s won two of four face-offs (while last year he lost both of the face-offs he was allotted) and already has 15 hits.

In Saturday night’s game, the rookie forward was also included on the Blueshirts’ second power play unit for the very first time.

That the young forward has already practically doubled his hits from last season isn’t just an indication of spending more time on ice; it’s also a feature of his hard, physical approach to the game.

Said Laviolette, “I think he’s played a really good game and we show him a few things here and there, but he’s not the topic of conversation when it comes to a ton of video on what’s off with his game.” Continued the veteran coach, “I think he does a lot of good things, he plays a straightforward game, he has a lot of speed, he plays with physicality, he generates some scoring chances. And that’s been consistent too, that’s been through training camp, as well. It’s not like he just had one good game and that’s it.

“Right now, as I said the other day, we should just leave him alone — because he’s playing hard, he’s doing the right things, and he’s had a real positive impact on the game.”

While it’s still very early in the season, Cuylle is living up to the high expectations the Rangers’ organization hoped for when they drafted him.

Deborah Seymour grew up in New York City and studied in the City University of New York system for both her undergraduate and her graduate degrees. She earned a Bachelor’s degree in mass communications and economics at Hunter College and an MPhil and PhD in linguistics at the CUNY Graduate Center. She has been a writer and editor in many different arenas for most of her career and taught English and linguistics to college students in New York and California. She is currently a partner in BallNine.com, a website dedicated to both the history and present day game of baseball, and has published her own sports blog focused on New York sports at BigAppleBite.com. She has also blogged about Pittsburgh sports in the past.