Although he still has plenty (potentially) to give to the Rangers, with the news of Chris Drury’s pending return – a welcome return at that – Erik Christensen is starring down the barrel of a healthy scratch. Luckily for him, Derek Boogaard doesn’t like to stay healthy. It was telling that during the Rangers demolition of the Caps Christensen only received roughly 11 minutes of ice time even though the game was already won entering the 3rd period. When a game is won early on it’s often a chance for a coach to rest his core players, try and get struggling players going with extended playing time and we saw that to an extent as Frolov got good PP minutes and even Todd White got power play time. Unfortunately for EC, he still didn’t get a ton of minutes during this game.
Drury’s return is a welcome for everyone but Christensen and White, although even more players will be concerned when Vinnie Prospal gets back later this month. Drury is an excellent face off guy, a lead by example type and will naturally help the penalty kill and while his offensive skills are clearly diminished from his Buffalo days he can still be counted on to add skill to the bottom 6 or chip in on a scoring line to some degree. Drury is this team’s undoubted leader – as indicated by Torts – and he’ll play regardless. How much he plays depends on the next game or two as while he looks to get game fitness a lot will depend on the chemistry and success of other lines. The next few games are indeed very important to Drury’s season. We should know quickly where Tortorella wants to use him and it will be key for Drury to show that he can be more than a checking forward who leads the penalty kill. How quickly he gets back up to speed may define Drury’s season.
The next two games are critical for Erik Christensen and arguably his future as a Ranger and perhaps even as an NHL’er. It’s very likely that Todd White will be the first casualty but once Boogaard (and then Prospal) are available other bodies will need to be sacrificed. Looking around the roster the obvious next candidate is EC. Many players such as Brandon Prust and Brian Boyle have taken advantage of the early season absences of key forwards and have made themselves invaluable to the Blueshirt cause. In fact, Brandon Prust may have been the Rangers best forward through November and early December such has been his impact all over the ice. All of this brings us back to EC and his key run of upcoming games. The game against the Pens and the game against the Coyotes may be his last chances to convince as the Rangers will likely go with the most physical side at their disposal for the Flyers game thereafter. Should EC be scratched he need look no further than Matt Gilroy to see how hard it is to get back into the team on a regular basis, even though Gilroy’s play isn’t deserving of a seat in the press box.
With all this being considered EC’s position needs to be assessed. He has obvious ability and flashes it occasionally, to the point where he may be tempting as trade bait, especially when you consider his contract is relatively small. With his ability to play wing and center as well as his talent in the skills competition EC may in fact be playing the next few games as an audition such is his tenuous position on the roster. As Torts indicated, the kids are safe (as they should be) so EC clearly is in a numbers game that looks like one he cannot win. All that makes the next two games huge for Christensen and not just Chris Drury.