Cody McLeod
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The New York Rangers traded Cody McLeod back to the Nashville Predators, further proving the enforcer’s downfall.

Frank Curto

When the New York Rangers announced the trade of fourth-line winger Cody Mcleod to the Nashville Predators for a 2020 seventh-round pick, one thing became more evident in Rangerstown. The direction of this team is still in its early stages with plenty of indecisiveness in accordance with serving youth.

McLeod was picked up by New York off the waiver wire at the NHL All-Star break last season from the same Nashville Predators he was just traded to. He’s the definition of an NHL enforcer, which is to say he could skate well yet his purpose is to protect his players with strength and fighting skills.

The rugged forward amassed 12 fighting majors along with 99 penalty minutes, appearing in 56 games for the Blueshirts. He recorded only three points (one goal, two assists) and was on the ice for only six goals when they Rangers lit the lamp and 28 when the opponent scored—a high number considering he averaged just over six minutes per game when he dressed.

McLeod suffered a hand injury during a fight in a game against the New York Islanders which cost him four weeks. In that time, it slowly became more apparent he was just the fit the team was hoping for or needed.

In the past few seasons under the Alain Vigneault regime, the fourth line played a pivotal role in the Lineup. They were expected to play tight defense, and create scoring chances as did the other three lines. The Rangers were a four-line rotating team which helped them to an Eastern Conference title and Stanley Cup appearance in 2014.

New York Rangers

The transaction was welcomed by head coach David Quinn, who was an assistant in Colorado when McLeod was a member of that team.

“Listen, I loved having Cody here,” Quinn said to Rick Carpiniello of the Athletic. “I had him in Colorado. It gives him a chance to win a Stanley Cup, where his family is, where he came from. They were hot after him. It gives us a chance to bring another young player up and develop and move forward in that area. So it made a lot of sense. We got another asset, which we’re trying to accumulate, obviously, and it just made a lot of sense”.

The days of Chris Nilan, Tie Domi, Rudy Poeschek, Derek Boogaard, and even an instigator such as Sean Avery have come and gone. This NHL now demands a strong skating, hard-hitting scoring forward. A person that is capable of netting the game-winning goal against a teams top line and then standing up for his own star player the very next shift is the new calling card 12 deep.

The Rangers don’t have the latter of that theory right now.

The team needs to become bigger and stronger as has been shown in the last two games. The overtime loss to the Los Angeles Kings was a game in which the Rangers were manhandled throughout. The players took some big hit and looked tired in the third period. A late goal tied it up and the Kings went on to win the game 4-3 just 25 seconds into the overtime period.

The Rangers dressed seven defensemen and 11 forwards for the game. At the time, coach Quinn believed these were the best players to skate in the contest. We now know it was more likely because of the impending trade announcement sending McLeod to Nashville a day later.

In the Boston game on Wednesday, the Rangers fourth line was something fans will need to get used to. In past games, the head coach has used the line as a demotion of sorts. Players such as Pavel Buchnevich and Vladislav Namestnikov have all seen time there. Now the fourth line needs to become an important piece to the team’s puzzle.

Following the recall of forward Vinni Lettieri from Hartford, the fourth line was comprised of Boo Nieves centering Jimmy Vesey and Lettieri. The line was tested physically late in the first period when Nieves took a cheap shot to the back, without the puck near him, from Boston’s Sean Kuraly. Vesey, unhappy with the play, defended Nieves drawing a cross-checking penalty when the dust settled.

The team will need players to step up for one another before teams attempt to take advantage of them with dirty hits.

The Rangers organization will be tested once again as the trade deadline approaches. Jeff Gorton will continue to improve on the team’s youth and skill, but he needs to mindful of the team’s surroundings.

The Eastern conference is loaded with big, aggressive skill players. Alex Ovechkin, Evgeni Malkin, and Auston Mathews are examples of the tough hitting, goal scoring forwards to the Rangers face on most game days. They will need more than the heart of Jimmy Vesey if they are going to survive the intense games they will be taking on in the next few months.

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