Rangers Get Huge Lineup Boost Right Before Conference Finals

The New York Rangers have all forwards available for the Eastern Conference Finals.

Getty The New York Rangers have all forwards available for the Eastern Conference Finals.

After missing a few forwards for the second half of the season and introducing rookie sensation Matt Rempe to the Madison Square Garden faithful, the New York Rangers are entering the Eastern Conference Finals with a clean bill of health.

Rangers head coach Peter Laviolette spoke during a media availability session on Sunday, May 19. He confirmed “there’s not been any restrictions” on any forward experiencing injuries or getting scratched of late.

“We’re working towards [having everybody available],” Laviolette told reporters. “Everybody to this point has been out on the ice, and as of recently, there’s not been any restrictions on players.”

The question comes after 37-year-old veteran Blake Wheeler shed his non-contact jersey at practice after the end of the second-round series against the Carolina Hurricanes.

Wheeler joined a group that also featured the threesome of Filip Chytil, Jonny Brodzinski, and Matt Rempe. All of them have appeared in games through the playoffs taking on the 12th forward spot on the lineup.

Blake Wheeler Back Skating in Practice

Wheeler suffered a lower-body injury on February 15, 2024, and the Rangers expected him to miss the remainder of the season. The franchise placed him on injured reserve, opening the door and a roster spot for Matt Rempe to debut.

The veteran should provide a solid, experienced option in case Laviolette doesn’t want to take more risks than he should.

On Sunday, May 19, after practice, Wheeler said he is available to play in the Eastern Conference finals.

“I think once you get rid of the red jersey, and the fact they take me off of the injured reserve, I think that’s been my goal the whole time since I got hurt: to be an option and be available again. And that’s where we’re at,” Wheeler said, per ESPN’s Greg Wyshynski. “It’s going to be in the coach’s hands from there, but I’m ready in any capacity I can to help out.”

Wheeler comes with 1,172 games played under his belt. Before suffering his injury, he skated along with Chris Kreider and Mika Zibanejad as a member of the Rangers top forward line.

Of course, returning to the ice during the Eastern Conference Finals is a big ask for someone who has missed ample time on the shelves. That said, no player on the team, let alone the bottom-six forwards, comes with a large resume as Wheeler’s.

Filip Chytil Available Going Forward

Chytil found himself in a similar situation to Wheeler, only preceding him on their way to injured reserve.

The Rangers placed Chytil on long-term injured reserve after he suffered a setback in January. They ruled him out for the remainder of the season, but the forward returned to practice on April 12.

Chytil played in Game 3 against the Carolina Hurricanes during the second round of the playoffs. The Rangers ruled Chytil out for Games 4 and 5 with an illness. That created some concern about his health considering his track record with concussions.

“I feel great now,” Chytil said after the May 19 practice, via USA Today’s Vince Mercogliano. “We have a couple more practices and I can work on my game. Let’s see what’s going to happen on Wednesday.

“I want to play,” Chytil said. “I didn’t join to just watch the guys from the stands and have a vacation in New York and Florida. I want to play. I’m going to do my best any time I get put in the lineup.”

Rangers’ Jonny Brodzinski & Matt Rempe Fighting for a Role

Finally, the Rangers and coach Laviolette would opt for two other forwards in the event of Wheeler and/or Chytil not being fully available: Brodzinski and Rempe.

Rempe already played in the first and second rounds of the playoffs, albeit his time on ice was rather limited. He seemed to lose some of Laviolette’s trust and confidence in using him with every passing game.

Rempe has played more in home games than on the road, which might bode well for him as the Rangers have a home-ice advantage. The conference finals will go down in New York, at Madison Square Garden, for the first two games.

The other option, Brodzinski, logged 57 regular-season appearances this season and he appeared in two games against the Hurricanes in the conference semifinals. Brodzinski, however, didn’t produce any points in those two outings.

While not as experienced as Wheeler, Brodzinski has played 158 regular-season games throughout his career. That said, he had never played more than 35 (in 2018) before this year.

Read More