Rangers: Could Will Cuylle steal a top-six role?

New York Rangers left wing Will Cuylle (50) skates in warm-ups prior to the game against the Boston Bruins at TD Garden
Eric Canha-USA TODAY Sports

New York Rangers rookie Will Cuylle snuck his way onto the roster following a tremendous preseason campaign. While Cuylle is widely expected to begin his NHL career in the bottom six of the Blueshirts’ lineup, he could have an avenue to earn a role in the top six.

Rangers Could Reward Will Cuylle With Top-Six Role

Cuylle had a stellar preseason, posting two goals, one assist, three points, and 12 shots in five games for the Blueshirts. His performance earned him the Lars-Erik Sjoberg Award given to the Rangers’ most impressive top rookie during training camp/preseason.

As the rookie prepares to take the next step and compete in the NHL, it is anticipated that Cuylle will receive plenty of playing time.

According to Mollie Walker of The New York Post, the Rangers want Cuylle playing significant minutes, “so the expectation is that he’ll slot right into the lineup.”

If he continues to play at a high level, Cuylle could apply pressure to one under-performing player in the top six, and potentially steal some of that second-line playing time.

Could Alexis Lafreniere’s Position Be In Jeopardy?

21-year-old forward Alexis Lafreniere is expected to elevate into a top-six role this season after converting to the other side of the ice. Despite beginning his career as a left wing for the Blueshirts, Lafreniere is likely to start the season as the second-line right wing.

But Lafreniere did not exactly instill confidence in the hearts of Rangers fans this preseason. Lafreniere managed to record just one point in three preseason games and failed to score a goal while playing from his new right wing spot.

If Lafreniere continues to struggle while Cuylle continues to excel, new head coach Peter Laviolette could be forced into making a difficult decision. Cuylle could potentially steal Lafreniere’s role in the top six, sending Lafreniere back down onto the third line where he has spent the majority of his career.

Peter Laviolette Has Expressed Confidence In Cuylle

Laviolette offered high praise to Cuylle following his excellent preseason. The Rangers’ new bench manager seems excited by the rookie’s potential:

“I liked his speed; I liked his physicality. He generated a lot of offense. He scored goals, he put pucks to the net. He could have scored a few more. He’s a big presence out there, so he did a lot of things, and he did them consistently through camp. He earned himself this opportunity.”

Peter Laviolette via NHL.com

Having earned the confidence of Laviolette, the path for increased playing time is laid out for Cuylle. If he continues to perform at a high level, Laviolette could eventually reward Cuylle with some top-six playing time.

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