I was one of the ones who praised Stu Bickel when he came in to the side and looked pretty comfortable from the outset despite being an undrafted, unheralded kid out of nowhere. I was however, also the one who criticised him a few weeks ago when his positional play was interesting (at best) for a stretch, and I still believe half the fights he gets into are unnecessary and don’t serve any purpose than to keep the box scorers busy.
That said he’s improved a lot recently and at times, has covered for some of Marc Staal’s mistakes who is very much up and down form-wise at the moment. Bickel’s inconsistent positional play seems to have settled down and his decision making on the puck is improving (although very much a work in progress).
Bickel has continued to be a physical presence without being a liability; it all adds up to making the Rangers defense reliable from top to bottom – despite the recent wave of unfortunate goals the Rangers have endured.
Bickel however may be playing for an NHL future elsewhere. So much of Bickel’s future depends on factors he cannot control. If Mike Sauer comes back this (or certainly next) season he’s immediately bumped down the depth chart. If Anton Stralman – for the most part – plays like he has done recently and is sensible with his contract demands it would be surprising if the Rangers didn’t have some interest in bringing him back next year.
Then there’s always the looming presence of Dylan McIlrath and to a lesser extent Pavel Valentenko. Note: are you ruling out Valentenko? You should only do so if you were a fortune teller and saw Bickel making the club the way he has this year.
Bickel has improved and clearly is gaining trust with the coaching staff – as evidenced by the additional third period ice time he’s getting. There’s no denying the value of earning Tortorella’s trust for a player, especially one looking to stick with the club. Bickel getting better is a win-win scenario for all concerned.
If he plays well he has a chance to stick. He plays well he’ll certainly stick in the NHL. If he keeps doing what he’s doing, even if he doesn’t make it with the Rangers, he’s made himself an asset for the franchise over the summer; so everyone wins from an improving Bickel.
It will be interesting to see how the cards that is the Rangers defense fall over the summer. There are a lot of factors in play for the Rangers blue line; none more so than Bickel’s continued development.