Neal Pionk, Tony DeAngelo, and Fredrik Claesson all need to play *when the Rangers are healthy*
The Rangers’ blue line is a hot mess at the moment. Marc Staal still isn’t good, which isn’t as much a surprise as it is a disappointment for hoping the career Ranger would see a spark with a new coach. Brendan Smith went from preseason beast to healthy scratch. Adam McQuaid was never going to be a good option. That’s almost 40% of the blue line already!
Kevin Shattenkirk will be Kevin Shattenkirk. Brady Skjei looks somewhat okay so far. But then we have three guys for one more roster spot. Neal Pionk and Tony DeAngelo are the kids who should be getting long looks. Fredrik Claesson was the insurance policy and 8D. But here we are, looking at a blue line where all three really need to play.
Pionk and DeAngelo need to play for obvious reasons. The Rangers have a lot invested in them –specifically DeAngelo– and now is the time to find out what they can bring to the lineup. It’s not about what they are today, it’s about what they can be tomorrow and how they progress in reaching that potential. It’s a process with an end goal that can only be achieved through patience. And roster space.
Claesson is just 25 years old, but has been one of the more stable presences on the blue line to date. He’s certainly been better than all three of Staal, Smith, and McQuaid. Yet it took an injury and 17 games for him to get a steady spot in the lineup. He hasn’t been noticeable, and on this blue line, that’s a compliment.
Yet we as fans have a fragile psyche. We are used to veterans getting playing time as soon as they return from injury. So we are expecting McQuaid to come in for one of DeAngelo or Pionk (righties) when he’s ready. We are expecting Smith to come back to the lineup for Claesson at some point. It’s just what we expect, whether it happens or not. Pavlov’s dogs, after all.
However for the Rangers to truly take that next step, David Quinn will need to show he still has the boldness to bench the veterans for the kids. There’s the “trade value” argument, which is a bit silly for Staal, Smith, and McQuaid because none of them have any significant value. Keeping two of them out of the lineup doesn’t really impact what the Rangers might get in a trade. NHL GMs aren’t stupid. Unless they are in Edmonton.
I will forever state that the lineup in game 60 will mean more than the lineup in game 17. I stand by that. DQ is about 1/4 into his first season, and has seen enough of the three veterans to make his roster decisions. Now it’s about getting the two kids and Claesson –who is only 25 years old– their chance. They certainly can’t be any worse, right?