The New York Rangers had a ton going for them last season; a vastly talented offense, youthful speed, a couple of first-round draft picks, and a defensive core that turned out to be wildly adaptive. The one thing the team was missing was a lack of consistent physicality that would put fear into their opponents. This 2021 offseason, the front office not only acknowledged that lack of toughness but finally took strides to address it.
The Rangers picked up the contracts of Barclay Goodrow from the Stanley Cup-winning Tampa Bay Lightning, Jarred Tinordi from the Boston Bruins, and Ryan Reaves from the Vegas Golden Knights. Yes, the team had a couple of gritty players the past two seasons, who will be relied on again this season, but they were always missing something more. New York also has several young players slotted in to throw their weight around more consistently.
The Rangers Welcomed These Heavyweights
Besides his 6-foot-2 frame, Goodrow’s Cup experience will be a valuable asset for the young team. An overshadowed yet undeniable piece of the machine that won back-to-back Stanley Cups in 2020 and 2021, Goodrow is already a prized grinder for the Rangers. Just five days after he was traded to New York, he inked a six-year contract.
His six points in both Tampa Bay’s playoff runs proves that the 28-year-old rises to the occasion. He will be instrumental in the regular season, but if the Rangers can secure a playoff spot, his name should hit the scoresheet there too. A strong, tough player with zero hesitation to drop the gloves, Goodrow also has the versatility to play on the wing or at center.
Goodrow’s value further increases with his solid penalty kill capabilities. As a member of one of the top five penalty-killing teams last season, he played 133 minutes down a man, which ranked fifth among NHL forwards. Tough to play against and a solid situational player make Goodrow an integral addition to the team.
At 6-foot-6, the former Bruins defenseman is a threatening presence, capable of laying crushing hits. As he plays within the brutal Metropolitan Divison, Tinordi’s role in a Rangers uniform will be to shut down big players to create open ice. His height allows him to win the size battle against tough players who usually do the bullying.
He arrives in New York with a limited 102 games of NHL experience, so the Maryland native is more of a question mark when it comes to his utilization. The 29-year-old brings size to the back end and has a history of tussling with members of the Washington Capitals and rival New York Islanders.
Regardless of how much ice time Tinordi receives, he will know his role on the team. Hits and fights can change the dynamic of any game, and Tinordi is the perfect catalyst. His zero hesitation and ability to play with an edge should allow his young teammates to develop their game without the constant fear of being laid out by a punishing hit without consequence.
At 266 pounds, Reaves is the prized possession of Big Apple physicality. A known and feared enforcer, he is among the most fearless to stir up trouble. The Rangers were long interested in Reaves, but his former teams were not willing to part with him until now.
Though not as productive offensively as other tough guys, Reaves tallied five points and 27 penalty minutes in 37 games for Vegas in the shortened 2020-21 season. The 6-foot-2 pest has 937 penalty minutes in 686 matches and 84 games of playoff experience under his belt.
If any new Ranger is going to make an opponent think twice, it’s Reaves. With such young talent on the ice, their vulnerability was a risk going into this season. Now that fearless fighter Brendan Smith has left the club, Reaves’s arrival is even more timely. An enviable member of any team looking for a deep run at the Cup, he will be key to closing the “nice guy” chapters in New York.
Rangers Who Brought the Edge
A lifelong Ranger, Kreider never shied away from a scrum and weaved physicality into his game. At age 30, he became a leader for the rebuilding team, mostly thanks to his intangible qualities and his selflessness when defending a teammate.
The strong, speedy, and physical Kreider will lead by example again this season. An all-around player who carries himself extremely well, he will be key if the team wants to move forward, though many resent his price tag.
Kreider himself spoke on behalf of his new teammates recently: “They’ve played within a defined role and know how they can help a team win. When we bring in guys with that level of experience, I think that is incredibly valuable. Understanding the little things, understanding what a winning culture looks like.” He brings a unique experience to the table. During his time with the Rangers, he has always played with a punch.
Despite being one of the shorter players on the list, what the defenseman lacks in size, he makes up for in character. Notorious for donning a roughed-up appearance, Lindgren is entering his fourth season with the Rangers as a consistent source of grit. At 6-feet and 191 pounds, the 23-year-old should enjoy bringing his physical presence back, especially since he will be backed up by those mentioned above.
The valuably tough Minnesotan, who partners with Norris Trophy winner Adam Fox, will need to be present this season. Though he revels in the tough-guy role and did it healthily, his continued development is important to his career, building on the chemistry with his partner and the long-term team vision.
The young Ranger already puts his body on the line night in and night out and recently accepted the Players’ Player Award as voted on by his teammates. His role on the team is appreciated, and his future with the club looks bright.
Another player who leaves his heart and soul on the ice is Trouba. The defender, best known for his offensive flair, leadership, and heavy hits, was a big part of the Rangers’ vision when he joined the team two summers ago. The 27-year-old defender was a key player on the Winnipeg Jets and has yet to return to peak form since coming to Broadway.
Always with an edge, Trouba suffered a broken thumb last season, which sidelined him for a decent chunk of time. The team missed him, so keeping him in the lineup will be essential for team chemistry.
Rangers Poised For a Breakout
The second-overall draft pick from 2019, Kakko is 6-foot-3 and has used the summer to pack on weight. Between his freshman and sophomore seasons, he was noticeably bigger, and while he clocked in 199 pounds last season, he likely bulked up this offseason as well.
We saw flashes of Kakko’s strength last season, and he looked much more confident compared to his rookie season. There are still some steps for him to take, but if he can adapt to using his body to keep others off the puck, his game will improve. He looked strong in the corners when he had the puck but now is the time for him to step it up as fighting for a spot has become routine for the young Rangers.
At 6-foot-5, Miller does not need to put much effort into adapting his big frame to his style of play. The rookie was key last season as a quick learner who jumped from college right to the NHL with minimal adjustments. The promising blueliner appears to be the whole package with a lethal shot, tons of body strength, leadership qualities, and the potential to be a legitimate shutdown defender with his work ethic.
This season, Miller should take a leap towards physicality. As one of the younger players, his toughness can play into his confidence and that of his teammates. Though the Rangers don’t need the tallest players to win, especially as the sport increasingly favors the faster and gifted, size is one thing they lacked. Miller’s 210-pound presence needs to be more of a factor in his game, especially to create open ice for his teammates.
Rangers fans have not seen much of Barron yet. The 6-foot-4, 220-pound forward, is exciting for several reasons. First, there’s his large frame, but his versatility will also come in handy. The team needs to develop their depth at center, and they can start with Barron, who has the potential to excel as a 200-foot player.
Assuming he is not involved in a trade, the Halifax native should be part of the organization’s long-term plans. He already looks strong at development camp, so cracking the roster this season would do wonders for his confidence.
He arrived as a late addition last season and only skated in five games but managed to net a goal. With his brute strength already apparent at age 22, the former sixth-round pick checks off the necessary boxes to become a pleasant late draft pick for the team.
The Importance of Physicality
The Rangers have needed toughness for several seasons now. The Metro houses a lot of heavyweights, and as the NHL returns to their regular schedule and divisions, the team will need to steer clear of injury as best as they can. By having intimidators on the ice, the young and acclimating players should have more confidence knowing their backs will be covered.
Not only this, but the team must also become a harder team to play against, and they cannot rely on hoping to outscore their opponent. Part of outplaying the opposition will be to wear them down, which will become increasingly important as they make a run for an invite to the postseason.
Rachel is a graduate of the University of Pittsburgh. She can be followed on Twitter @RachelNHL.