The New York Rangers made a lot of moves during the offseason to add grit to their lineup. They traded fan-favorite Pavel Buchnevich to the St. Louis Blues for Sammy Blais and a second-round pick, and signed free agent Barclay Goodrow to a six-year, $21.85 million contract. Though neither player has ever scored more than eight goals or had more than 26 points in a season, both have made a good first impression with the team.
Goodrow signed with the Rangers after winning the Stanley Cup in consecutive seasons with the Tampa Bay Lightning. In his career, he has five goals and nine assists in 65 postseason games, including a Game 7 overtime goal in the first round of the 2019 postseason, which eliminated the Vegas Golden Knights while he played for the San Jose Sharks.
A key focus for the Rangers is improving on faceoffs and Goodrow has won just under 52 percent of faceoffs in his career. He also excelled as a penalty killer with both Tampa Bay and San Jose.
While Goodrow thrived as a bottom-six forward with both the Sharks and Lightning, he has spent time on New York’s top line this season. He hasn’t put up big numbers offensively, but he has three goals and four assists in 14 games, including a clutch game-winning goal on a deflection late in the third period of a game against the Ottawa Senators. He has also forechecked effectively, and played well defensively on the penalty kill and late in close games.
Goodrow may not be flashy or score a lot, but he has done his job well so far this season and is earning the trust of head coach Gerard Gallant. His ability to block shots, play physically, and win important faceoffs while still chipping in offensively, makes him a valuable player and he has helped the Rangers find a way to win close games.
Like Goodrow, Blais has playoff experience and he won the Stanley Cup with the Blues in 2019. He has three goals and five assists in 27 career playoff games and had eight goals and seven assists in just 36 games last season.
It’s understandable for fans to compare Blais to Buchnevich (who developed into an excellent two-way winger) because they were traded for each other. However, it’s not Blais’ fault the Rangers made the trade and he has made a good first impression with the team. As expected, he has been a physical presence but he has also shown that he has some offensive skills, making nice passes to set up linemate Alexis Lafreniere. Though he has yet to score his first goal with the Rangers, he has four assists in 13 games and he has also shown a knack for drawing penalties.
Blais has earned ice time late in close games and made smart, effective decisions with the puck. He certainly isn’t the goal scorer Buchnevich is, but Blais has shown he is a good role player and he is off to a strong start this season.
For the Rangers Moving Forward
The Rangers have gotten off to an 8-3-3 start despite getting outplayed in many of their games. Gritty players like Goodrow, Blais, and Kevin Rooney have all played well early this season, but the Blueshirts will need more secondary production as well. Adam Fox, Artemi Panarin, Mika Zibanejad, and Chris Kreider all have at least 13 points this season, while no one else on the team has more than seven points.
New York could certainly get a boost from their talented young forwards Lafreniere, Kaapo Kakko, and Filip Chytil, who have all struggled to produce offensively early this season. Those struggles have made it even more important for the Rangers to get contributions from their gritty role players like Goodrow and Blais. The two new additions have played well defensively while still chipping in offensively, and that is a very encouraging sign for the Rangers who have committed to becoming a grittier team.
I grew up in Brooklyn, New York, rooting for the Rangers, Yankees, Giants, and Knicks. When my dream of playing shortstop for the Yankees fell short, I started writing about sports instead. I’m a proud graduate of the Philip Merrill College of Journalism at the University of Maryland.