The New York Rangers are off to a 6-3-3 start this season, but they haven’t gotten the best out of their skilled young players yet. One of their key weaknesses has been the inability to get any offense from their defensemen other than Adam Fox, who has been brilliant at both ends of the ice. The Blueshirts need to start trusting skilled rookie blueliner Nils Lundkvist, who can certainly help the Rangers offensively.
Lundkvist’s Track Record and Play This Season
The Rangers drafted Lundkvist late in the first round of the 2018 NHL Draft, and he played well despite competing with older players for Lulea HF in the Swedish Hockey League (SHL.) He finished with three goals and seven assists in 41 games during the 2018-19 season.
During the 2019-20 season, Lundkvist got stronger and more confident offensively, and finished with 11 goals and 20 assists in 45 games. Last season he once again proved to be a dominant force offensively, finishing with 14 goals and 18 assists in 52 games, and won the Salming Trophy as the SHL’s best Swedish-born defenseman.
This season, Lundkvist has done a nice job for the Rangers while averaging only 14:10 in ice time per game. He had a few giveaways in his first few games, but settled down and has played well recently. Even though he’s only 5-foot-11 and 187 pounds, he reads plays well, and rarely seems to be caught out of position defensively. He’s also made smart plays with the puck and has a quick, accurate shot. He has already shown his quick release this season but hit the post on his best scoring opportunity.
Lundkvist has two assists this season. Both times he recorded an assist, head coach Gerard Gallant scratched him in New York’s next game, and he’s only played in eight of their 12 games. The rookie blueliner will certainly have ups and downs this season, but he deserves consistent playing time.
Rangers Need Some Offense From Their Defensemen
While Norris Trophy winner Fox has continued his excellent play, the Rangers haven’t gotten offensive production from their other defensemen. Jacob Trouba, K’Andre Miller, Ryan Lindgren, Patrik Nemeth, and Jarred Tinordi have just one goal and four assists combined this season.
New York’s second power-play unit has been ineffective this season with Trouba at the point and the Rangers’ defensemen repeatedly miss the net on scoring opportunities. While Tinordi gives the Blueshirts toughness, he has just 12 points in 106 career games and like Nemeth is a defensive-minded defenseman.
Gallant has placed an emphasis on defense in his first season as head coach, but Lundkvist is capable of giving New York an offensive boost while also defending well. He hasn’t looked overmatched in his first few games with the Rangers.
For the Rangers Moving Forward
The Rangers have just 29 goals through their first 12 games, and three of those have been empty netters. They simply need to find a way to score more in order to have success this season. The reality is players like Tinordi, Nemeth, Ryan Reaves, Dryden Hunt, and Greg McKegg aren’t going to suddenly start producing offensively but Lundkvist has the talent to be a difference-maker.
The Rangers have repeatedly limited the playing time of their skilled young players or sent them to the American Hockey League (AHL). They have yet to get the best out of Kaapo Kakko, Alexis Lafreniere, or Filip Chytil and so far they have not gotten the best out of Lundkvist either.
If Lundkvist is given an opportunity to play more consistently but struggles, the Rangers can always send the 21-year-old to the Hartford Wolf Pack of the AHL and give him more time to develop. However, the Blueshirts need to show some faith in their rookie defenseman and give him that opportunity. He is certainly a skilled prospect and he has the potential to be a difference-maker for the Rangers.
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.