Even before the Rangers announced that Libor Hajek would be out for 3-4 weeks with a knee sprain, all eyes were on how the Rangers were going to adjust to the injury. The easiest answer, and the answer the club went with, was re-inserting Marc Staal, returning from an ankle injury, into the lineup.
There’s still chatter about calling up a defenseman to fill in that gap. Aside from the fact that it isn’t needed anymore –the Rangers aren’t going to bench Marc Staal– it might be premature to call up a defenseman. This is a rebuilding year, and that’s not just about playing every kid at the NHL level. Most prospects need time to develop, even if they have strong numbers in the AHL.
The first player that comes to mind is Joey Keane, who is having a great year in Hartford. He has a line of 6-9-15 in 22 games and has been the club’s highest scoring defenseman. However he is only 20 years old and this is his first year of pro hockey. He might be best served staying in the AHL, especially when you consider this tire fire of a defensive system. Confidence matters too.
Yegor Rykov would have been an interesting option too, but he was just returned to Hartford after spending the first two months of the season on SOIR. He needs time, even if he is the eventual answer. I’d expect to see him before Keane, but that’s my guess.
For this situation, the best call up is your 8D on the depth chart, of which the Rangers don’t appear to have. That’s not a slight on the Rangers, it’s just they don’t have that guy with experience to play a minimal role. They’ve focused on the rebuild, and that means getting kids as much ice time as possible.
Assuming no other injuries, riding out this injury to Hajek is the best bet. Staal, at the very least, provides the same level of production on the same side of the ice. Ensuring the kids develop is more important than calling them up to the NHL right now.