Rangers Need Sammy Blais to Step up This Season

The New York Rangers lost a big piece of their team when they traded Pavel Buchnevich to the St. Louis Blues in exchange for Sammy Blais and a second-round pick. Unfortunately, Blais tore his ACL when P.K. Subban clipped his skate in a game in November and he ended up missing the rest of the season.

This offseason, the Rangers lost a lot of their key forwards including Ryan Strome, Andrew Copp, Frank Vatrano, Kevin Rooney, and possibly Tyler Motte, who is still a free agent. Those losses put added pressure on Blais, and the team will need him to step up this season.

Blais’ Performance With the Blues

While with the Blues, Blais earned an opportunity as a bottom-six forward, who played with physicality and showed some skill too. He bounced back and forth between the NHL and the San Antonio Rampage of the American Hockey League (AHL) during the 2017-18 and 2018-19 seasons. He combined for 25 goals and 33 assists in 68 games with the Rampage over those two seasons but had just three goals and four assists in 43 games in his first two seasons with St. Louis.

Sammy Blais St. Louis Blues
Sammy Blais’ grit helped earn him a spot in the St. Louis Blues’ lineup (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Even though Blais did not produce much offense in his first few regular seasons with the Blues, his grit and energy earned him a shot with them during the 2019 Playoffs – and he made the most of it. He made his postseason debut in Game 6 of the second round against the Dallas Stars and scored a goal. He remained in the lineup for the rest of the postseason, finishing with one goal, two assists, and 70 hits in 15 games, as the Blues defeated the Boston Bruins in seven games to win the Stanley Cup.

Related: Blues’ Berube Wins Big Bet on Blais

Blais built on his successful postseason and played well as a bottom-six forward for the Blues during the 2019-20 season. He missed an extended period of time with a wrist injury, but still finished with six goals and seven assists in 40 games that season. During the 2020-21 season, he once again missed a lot of time with injuries but produced when he did play, finishing the season with eight goals and seven assists in just 36 games.

Blais’ Role With the Rangers

Last season, Blais played in just 14 games before his knee injury but he did a nice job on New York’s third line in those games. He made a couple of great passes to linemate Alexis Lafreniere but had some bad luck as he hit the post a couple of times. He ended the season with no goals and four assists.

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This season, Blais could play on the third line once again, as his ability to forecheck effectively and his hard-nosed attitude make him an interesting fit alongside 22-year-old center Fillip Chytil, who is a skilled but not physical player.

The Rangers’ third line was a weakness for them for most of the regular season, as they did not get much secondary scoring. However, in the playoffs, their third line of Chytil, Lafreniere, and Kaapo Kakko repeatedly created scoring chances and capitalized on them.

Now, with top-six forwards Copp, Strome, and Vatrano leaving in free agency, there’s a chance that both Kakko and Lafreniere will end up in the top-six, while Chytil will likely remain as the third-line center after the Rangers signed free agent pivot Vincent Trocheck to a long-term deal. This creates an opportunity for Blais, but it also adds pressure on him to produce next season too.

For the Rangers & Blais Moving Forward

The Rangers have a lot of star players, but they will also need their depth to contribute in order to build off of their run to the Eastern Conference Final last season and avoid regressing. Blais certainly has the potential to become a steady contributor if he can stay healthy.

In addition to the Rangers relying on Blais, it’s a crucial season for the winger because he is set to become an unrestricted free agent after this season. A strong campaign from him would make a big difference for the team and it could also earn him an extension down the road.

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