Chris Kreider’s unfortunate loss could be newest young Blueshirt, Vinny Lettieri’s, big gain. New York Rangers intrigue has suddenly smacked Manhattan right in its charming face.
The scary situation involving the blood clot discovered in Chris Kreider’s right arm stunned the New York Rangers and forced the club to suddenly adjust to the loss of the top-six power forward for a minimum of six-to-eight weeks. Bet on not seeing Kreider for longer than that as he works to return from a condition that could cost him more than his career if not treated properly.
Scary, scary stuff–an injury situation that forces us all to stop in our tracks and take the word of “human life” from the back of our minds and put it ahead of “sports.”
With that being the likely scenario–Kireder missing at least two months–the Rangers better hope young Vinni Lettieri is exactly what they’ve envisioned.
The 22-year-old underrated free agent out of the University of Minnesota doesn’t much resemble Kreider, the man he was called up from the AHL Hartford Wolf Pack to replace this week. At 5-foot-11 and 195 pounds, he wouldn’t be the one left standing after a collision with his runaway freight train of a teammate. And he won’t be the guy standing in front of the net on the power play, a role Kreider fills with great effectiveness using his strength and size.
What Lettieri brings, however, could be just what the Rangers need.
His desperately needed right-handed shot will likely be utilized on the second power-play unit, with the key word being “shot.” Lettieri likes to let it go, a personality trait that’s much-needed on a highly skilled team that oftentimes simply passes too much (see … everybody: Mats Zuccarello leading the way).
“You never know what happens,” Lettieri told Larry Brooks of the New York Post. “Just shooting the puck has been a major difference, I think. If I didn’t take as many shots, I don’t think I would be as successful.”
While the Rangers had to call up someone to fill the spot of Kreider, this hardly reeks of desperation. Lettieri had a very strong training camp and likely would have been up from Hartford earlier had veteran Paul Carey not unexpectedly played so well and cemented himself as a staple of the fourth line.
The accurate way to describe this situation is that a young player has earned his chance and just needed an opening to take advantage of it. Lettieri had 12 goals and nine assists with the Wolf Pack. He looks ready to contribute at the next level.
“It’s very exciting; the best Christmas present possible,” Lettieri said. “I’ve waited for this opportunity for a long time.”
For now, he’ll slot in with Carey and fellow rookie Boo Nieves on the fourth forward unit. The adjustment period might not be a long one, as Lettieri is known not to lack confidence.
That’s big because the Rangers need him to get accustomed quickly. They’ll have to operate with Kreider’s return being an unknown for the foreseeable future, and Lettieri is coming to a club that will operate with the need to overcome its 3-7-2 start hanging over its head, likely for the rest of the season as it battles for a playoff spot.
So while the Rangers certainly would prefer to have Kreider in the lineup, it’s likely that team management is at least a little bit intrigued over the arrival of a player who all but made the club out of training camp.
“Stuff happens. There are other opportunities for other guys to get a bigger role,” coach Alain Vigneault … This is an opportunity for someone to step up to the plate.”
Yes, Kramden and Norton, DANCE the night away (as seen in MSG during the old-school goal-scoring days), for young Vinni Lettieri tallies his first NHL goal on a beauty of a set up from Boo Nieves. #NYR up 2-1 in Hockeytown. pic.twitter.com/fflOAHFPhC
— Elite Sports NY (@EliteSportsNY) December 30, 2017
It could be another one of the Blueshirts’ young forwards, or it could be Lettieri, who made his Rangers debut at Detroit on Friday while tallying his first NHL goal. The big stage follows: the Winter Classic against Buffalo at Citi Field on New Year’s Day and what would be his first Madison Square Garden game two days later against Chicago.
Three venues in his first three NHL games. Lettieri, though, knows he needs to play his game, regardless of the stage.
“It’s a great opportunity for me to showcase my skill,” Lettieri added. “I’m going to take what I did in Hartford, not change anything, and keep shooting the puck.”
The Rangers certainly hope so.