James Sheppard makes his Rangers debut against the Detroit Red Wings tonight so from a Rangers perspective we know very little about Sheppard. What we do know about Sheppard is that he brings faceoff skill (better than all but Dom Moore on the Rangers), versatility and defensive ability to the table. As a top ten pick back in 2006 he brings pedigree and perhaps some untapped offense as well (was tabbed as a scorer before he got rushed by the Wild).
In the past Sheppard has had a tough time staying healthy but resurrected his career in San Jose via the AHL. He has become solid depth player at the NHL level even if Minnesota expected more when they drafted him. Sheppard’s arrival also means (health allowing) we’ve seen the last of Oscar Lindberg in New York this season after a mere one game cameo.
The bigger question now becomes what Sheppard’s arrival means for Lindberg in the mid to long term. After all, there’s only so long a prospect is allowed to dwindle in the minors and only so long before that prospect wants a change for the sake of his own career development as well.
Sheppard is on an expiring contract so, of course, his future may not affect Lindberg beyond this year but if Sheppard has the desired impact on the Rangers there’s every chance New York will look to re-up the 26 year old center in the summer. Given their likely similar roles as Rangers, Sheppard would be going into direct competition with Lindberg for a place on the Rangers and with a solid body of NHL work to date (380 games, close to 100 points) and hopefully a successful stint as a Ranger, it would surely only be the potential cap hit that would prevent Sheppard from pushing Lindberg out of the Rangers reckoning for a bottom six spot, which leads us to Lindberg’s future.
With a top six center spot well out of reach and Dominic Moore entrenched as a center for at least one more season could Lindberg slide to the wing and make the Rangers? Or could James Sheppard move to the left (as he is comfortable in doing) to accommodate Lindberg? The fact is, with Sheppard’s arrival, Lindberg’s future as a Ranger is in question despite never really doing anything wrong since joining the organisation. He’s made solid progress each year culminating in his Rangers debut recently.
Lindberg wasn’t given the opportunity to stay in New York and the club chose to acquire Sheppard instead. Of course, NHL experience for the bottom six was desired at the deadline and not just talent and maybe the Rangers still foresee a role for Lindberg next season, particularly as they navigate an increasingly stressful cap situation. That said, Lindberg’s future is uncertain and may be out of his control no matter how he plays out his season.
The Rangers now have what looks like impressive forward depth on the current roster so Lindberg’s best hope may be one or more forwards become victims of the cap – it looks certain that the Rangers will face some hard decisions this summer. Time will tell what impact James Sheppard will have on the Rangers but it won’t just be the fans and media that will be watching Sheppard’s debut in Detroit with great interest his arrival impacts several prospects – including Oscar Lindberg.