It’s far too early in the season to make any fair assessment of the 2013-2014 Rangers, but already several things have become apparent – chief among them that the Blueshirts have impressive depth this season.
The return of the team’s heart and soul, Ryan Callahan, on Monday night provided a huge boost against the L.A. Kings and further solidified New York’s top-nine. The one key piece that remains out of the lineup is 25-year-old LW Carl Hagelin, who underwent surgery on a torn shoulder labrum last spring but is on a slightly slower recovery path than Callahan.
Of course, an extended injury to Rick Nash would put a big dent in the depth, but we are optimistic that it won’t be a lingering injury.
Hagelin was placed on LTIR before the season and is slated to miss a minimum of 10 games and 24 days, keeping him out until at least October 29th against the Islanders. It could be longer than that; since Hagelin still hasn’t been cleared for contact we have no real way of knowing his timeline.
Still, it’s exciting to think about how the roster might look when #62 does return. There are a handful of players more valuable to the Blueshirts than Hagelin, but there might not be anyone that single-handedly changes the game as much as he does. Obviously Henrik Lundqvist is the club’s backbone in net, Nash is as good a goal scorer as you’ll find in the NHL, and three Blueshirt blueliners are frequently mentioned among the NHL’s best. They’re all great players, but none of them possess that one singular quality that tilts the ice the way Hagelin’s lightning speed can.
Shortly after Hagelin’s arrival, John Tortorella began instructing his players to dump the puck deep into the far corner and let his thoroughbred chase it down regardless of the risk of icing. That may not be possible for Alain Vigneault given the league’s new attention to hybrid icing, but rest assured that Vigneault is chomping at the bit to give his new toy a spin.
Already against the Kings we saw that the Rangers can be very effective playing at a faster tempo and that will only come more naturally when the quickest player in the league returns.
Like Callahan and Derek Stepan, Hagelin will surely need a bit of time to shake off the rust when he hits the ice. But there were plenty of encouraging reports from training camp that Hagelin’s speed wasn’t affected at all by his offseason recovery and he is overall in tremendous shape.
Besides his legs, Hagelin is also a puck possession monster, dependable penalty killer and has at times in the past shown touch around the net. He’s absolutely among the top-nine forwards on the squad, and probably among the top-six.
Knock on wood that the Rangers remain healthy, but the idea of adding Hagelin to an already deep bench is cause for excitement. If Nash is OK, Hagelin’s return in a couple of weeks could make New York free of significant injuries for the first time since early last season. If you remember, at that point many viewed the Blueshirts as a Stanley Cup favorite.