In a season where the Rangers, from top to bottom, have done almost everything right the decision to insert Matt Hunwick straight into the line-up is the sign of a missed opportunity. When Henrik Lundqvist went down with an injury the team turned to Cam Talbot. Slowly but surely Talbot has turned himself into a legitimate NHL starter – at worst a high end backup – and moving forward, has developed into an asset for the franchise.
When Lundqvist eventually returns the embarrassment of riches in goal will be a huge advantage for the Rangers. On top of that the team has identified a young netminder in Mackenzie Skapski who may also have a future with the big club. In injury, opportunities lie or so they say.
While Talbot’s form was critical to the Rangers pursuing a high seed and playoff position, there is less pressure (to an extent) on Klein’s replacement in the line-up. Barring a collapse of the most epic of proportions the Rangers have a playoff spot sown up and barring a slightly less but still epic collapse they have a high seed in the bag too. The timing of Kevin Klein’s injury should represent an opportunity to test one of the younger Hartford blueliner’s.
Are the Rangers that tight to the cap ceiling that they cannot afford a blueline call up? If so, then why wasn’t Lundqvist’s time off the ice dealt with differently to save crucial cap dollars? It’s a point worth investigating at a later date but for now, let’s put the cap math to one side and discuss what seems like a potential missed opportunity.
Matt Hunwick is a serviceable depth defenseman and has done a solid job for the Rangers. Based on his play and his low maintenance personality I would have no problem if he returned next year in the same capacity, however Hunwick doesn’t represent the future of the organisation nor do the club need to find out about his development and upside. On the other hand, Conor Allen, Dylan McIlrath and others toiling in Hartford could still be options for New York. If cap space allowed for one of the younger defensemen to be in New York that should have been the choice made.
To be fair, Hunwick has sat for a while and perhaps the club want to look at him initially and then refer to the minor league but aside from knowing the team are clearly ‘tight’ to the cap we don’t know the full inner thinkings of the Rangers brain trust, but if possible, it just makes too much sense to take advantage of this opportunity to bring on another prospect. The Rangers are playing well defensively, winning games and the youngster could be sheltered while learning on the job. What’s not to love?
Allen is playing out a solid season in Hartford with 26 points and 10 goals in 56 games. McIlrath has a stack of penalty minutes while throwing his weight around and has 14 points. Meanwhile Matt Bodie is having a solid first pro season with 24 points. None of the three have exactly demanded a call up through their play so the Rangers still don’t really know what they have with any of these players for sure and there is definitely a gap between the big club and the next wave of defensive prospects so why not take an opportunity to close that gap?
The Rangers are left with four left handed defensemen and just two remaining right handed blueliners so there will be some juggling of pairs – not ideal. Kevin Klein was having a strong season and it’s unfortunate that the Rangers will miss their #4D for a month but it’s not a disaster, if Henrik Lundqvist’s loss can be covered so can Klein’s. What would be disappointing however is if the team missed the opportunity to develop another young, long term asset because of poor cap management or the reluctance to take a chance on a youngster amid the end of season sprint.