Rangers could be getting back veteran forward just in time for the Eastern Conference Finals

Jan 27, 2024; Ottawa, Ontario, CAN; New York Rangers right wing Blake Wheeler (17) skates with the puck in the first period against the Ottawa Senators at the Canadian Tire Centre. Mandatory Credit: Marc DesRosiers-USA TODAY Sports
Marc DesRosiers-USA TODAY SportsCredit: Marc DesRosiers-USA TODAY Sports

The Rangers are getting ready to face off against the Florida Panthers on Wednesday in game one of the Eastern Conference Finals and have something so rare this late into the season: a relatively healthy roster.

Not only do the Blueshirts appear to be at full strength as they look to return to the Stanley Cup Finals for the first time since 2014, but they may also be getting some reinforcements.

Blake Wheeler could return to the lineup

New York Rangers right wing Blake Wheeler
Feb 12, 2024; New York, New York, USA; New York Rangers right wing Blake Wheeler (17) skates with the puck against the Calgary Flames during the first period at Madison Square Garden. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY SportsCredit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

Blake Wheeler has been absent from the Rangers lineup since Feb. 15, when the 37-year-old’s right leg got bent to the point where it was at an unnatural angle and had to be helped off the ice. The injury to Wheeler was so gruesome that many thought that his time in the NHL had come to an end.

Despite the severity of the injury, it was never called season-ending as the 37-year-old got placed on injured reserve and began his road to recovery.

Over the past few weeks, Wheeler has resumed practicing and on Sunday, revealed he’s available to play.

“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 (h/t ABC).“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 appeared in 54 games before going down with the injury, scoring nine goals and registering 12 assists.

Where would Wheeler fit in the Rangers’ lineup?

New York Rangers right wing Blake Wheeler (17) skates with the puck against the Toronto Maple Leafs during the second period at Madison Square Garden
Dec 12, 2023; New York, New York, USA; New York Rangers right wing Blake Wheeler (17) skates with the puck against the Toronto Maple Leafs during the second period at Madison Square Garden. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY SportsCredit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

This Rangers squad looks much different from the last time Wheeler skated in-game action with them, making his fit in the forward group quite interesting.

With the top six forward group pretty set in stone, moving the recently returned Filip Chytil down to the fourth line and slotting Wheeler in is a potential move, with Will Cuyle losing his spot in the starting lineup.

Another option would be for Cuyle to lose his spot directly, with Wheeler taking over on the fourth line alongside Barclay Goodrow and Jimmy Vesey.

Time will tell where Wheeler ends up, but head coach Peter Laviolette will have some difficult decisions as he attempts to lead the Rangers to their first Stanley Cup victory since 1994.

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