Newest Rangers have added Character to a Playoff-Bound Team

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It took overtime for the New York Rangers, who are in third place in the National Hockey League’s Eastern Conference, to beat the Detroit Red Wings at Little Caesar’s Arena in Detroit, Michigan last night. Who would have thought that Andrew Copp, who general manager, Chris Drury traded for last week’s trade deadline, would already have become a hometown hero and an overtime hero at the same time but he did when he finished a pass from Artemi Panarin and scored to put the Rangers over the top against the Detroit Red Wings, 5-4 on Wednesday night’s game that was broadcasted on TNT.

The Rangers now have 93 points, have won four straight games, and are three points ahead of the Pittsburgh Penguins in the Metropolitan Division standings. No matter what anyone said about the moves that the Rangers made at the deadline, the most important thing is that each of the forwards they acquired Copp, Frank Vatrano, and Tyler Motte have joined a good team and have fit right into what head coach Gerard Gallant is trying to mold the Rangers into and that is a team that can win multiple series in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Trade deadline day began with the promise of adding four veteran players to a Ranger lineup in need of some help, but it ended on a sour note. The reason it did was that New York lost by a score of 7-4 to their arch-rivals, the New Jersey Devils. However, one thing that is worth mentioning about that forgetful game is that it was Copp’s first in the red, white, and blue uniform and he still had two assists. Copp has even scored five points in five games since joining head coach Gerard Gallant’s team and along with Franky Vatrano has given the Rangers fans hope with the playoffs just around the corner. Here is what each player has contributed to the New York Rangers since joining in the middle of March.

The New Guys Can Play

With one-time Hart trophy-winner, Claude Giroux and Norris trophy-winning defenseman, Mark Giordano available at the deadline, the wish list for Ranger fans was straightforward was it not? Bring in Giroux to play right wing on the second line and Giordano to bolster the blueline and everything would be good. Well, the faithful Rangers fans felt pretty disappointed when they went out and traded for three unknown players and a veteran defenseman from the Philadelphia Flyers.

So, who were these three unknown forwards that Chris Drury brought to Broadway? Three guys who are in their mid-to-late 20s, in the prime of their careers, which is a plus; Andrew Copp from Winnipeg, Frank Vatrano from Florida, and Tyler Motte from Vancouver. Vatrano joined the Rangers with one 20-goal season (2018-19) under his belt, while Copp was a physical center who would help out the Rangers’ struggling third and second lines tremendously.

NEW YORK, NEW YORK – MARCH 15: John Gibson #36 of the Anaheim Ducks braces for a shot by Artemi Panarin #10 of the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden on March 15, 2022 in New York City. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

Then there is Motte whose size (5’10”, 192 pounds) is, by all means, makes him a lightweight as far as checking players go in the NHL, but that has not mattered. It has not mattered because even though he is short and even though he adds a little offensively, Motte plays hard and he’s performed the role of a fourth-line checker, well over his first five games as a Ranger. Still, Blueshirts fans were disappointed after they traded for Vatrano, Copp, and Motte because none of them had put up over 40 points during a regular season before, and a lot of fans would have preferred it if the Rangers would have acquired a 20-goal scorer and a big body like Tomas Hertl.

However, whether they tried to get Hertl or Giroux, both of those offensive players would have cost more than the rookie GM of a developing team would have been willing to trade. As it turned out, the Rangers added Copp and Vatrano, who were both markedly better than the likes of Chytil and even Barclay Goodrow, who were and still play on the Rangers’ bottom-six, this season. This made it clear that the Rangers had not acquired any elite offensive players, but what they did get were three players who have stuck in the most difficult league in the world because each one of them has character.

During the postgame press conference after the Rangers, 5-4 Overtime win on Mar. 27, Vatrano and Copp were being peppered with questions by the New York media, and one of Vatrano’s answers is worth sharing.

My whole career I’ve been up and down the lineup, playing in the top six, playing in the bottom six. When you’re put in the spot to play in the top six, sometimes you can change your game…but you learn that you’ve been put there because of the way you’ve been playing—you don’t have to change the way you play and for me, that’s just bringing a simple game, moving my feet, being physical and trying to make plays when they’re there.

Franky Vatrano during a press conference on Mar. 27, 2022

Vatrano has played on very talented teams in each of his first seven NHL seasons. His first two seasons were in Boston, where he played on a team that is led by its captain Patrice Bergeron and an elite offensive player, Brad Marchand. In Feb. 2018, he was traded from Boston to the Florida Panthers for a third-round draft pick– and no one likes being equated to a middle-of-the-road draft pick. However, Vatrano is an average NHL forward because he has averaged around 30 points, with a career-high of 39, over the last four seasons in Florida.

Now, the important thing about Vatrano’s comments is that the modest man from Massachusetts has no issue being moved around in the lineup. He started out on the third line playing with a below-average centerman, Filip Chytil in his first game with the Rangers and has since moved up to the second line all the way up to the first line with the team’s two best goal scorers, Chris Kreider and Mika Zibanejad. Personally, it’s shocking to see a guy move from the third to the first line in less than two weeks but ‘Franky V’ has earned the chance to play top-six minutes on a playoff team because he knows exactly what his role is and he has been able to perform, night-in and night-out.

The same goes for Andrew Copp and Tyler Motte and let’s not forget that Motte has played at least 12 minutes of ice in the last five Ranger games and averaged three hits per night, which shows that the scrappy fourth line checker knows his role and is doing his job on a consistent basis as well. As for Copp he has not only been a decent addition, he has been a great upgrade at the center position for a Rangers team that was previously relying on Ryan Strome and Chytil, who are not good defensive players, to be the meat and potatoes of their forward lineup.

It bears repeating that the Broadway Blueshirts have won four straight and a lot of it has to do with how well their newest players have played. Andrew Copp has five points in his last four games. The 28-year-old made the assist on K’Andre Millers’ overtime-winner against Buffalo at Madison Square Garden, recently and then said, ‘I can score one too,’ and got the game-winner on Mar. 30 against the Red Wings.

To temper expectations, both Vatrano and Copp have been productive over the last five games, but only one of the teams, that they played during that stretch was ranked in the top ten of the NHL Power Rankings and that was the Penguins who they faced twice. The most recent power rankings place the Rangers as the fifth-best team in the NHL and the Penguins at number seven. The Metropolitan Division race is far from over and if the Rangers want to stay in the NHL’s top five going into the playoffs, they need to continue to play as a team like Copp, Vatrano, and Motte do on a nightly basis.

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