The New York Rangers are back in action tonight, with the season opener against the Buffalo Sabres set to start the 2023-24 season for the Blueshirts. Although the official lineup for tonight’s game has yet to be announced, there is a strong likelihood that it will closely resemble what has been seen in the final practices leading up to the regular season.
One noticeable aspect of this projected lineup is the absence of Jimmy Vesey. With Will Cuylle entering the lineup as a rookie, one player would ultimately have to be scratched. It’s up to head coach Peter Laviolette to decide who that would be, and it appears Vesey is the odd man out. It’s a questionable decision, as there are other players who contribute less.
Vesey is an elite depth piece for the Rangers
Last season, Vesey fought his way onto the Rangers after being signed to a PTO. He played so well that the Blueshirts opted to extend him with a fresh two-year contract in January of this year. He played in both the top and bottom six and found success on every line he was on. He managed to score when playing with Chris Kreider and Mika Zibanejad. At the same time, he excelled as a grinder with Barclay Goodrow and Tyler Motte.
Vesey only scored 25 points last season, but he mainly filled a fourth-line role for the majority of the year. He’d likely play the same role in this season opener if he were to play, but it seems that he won’t receive that opportunity. A fourth line consisting of Goodrow-Bonino-Vesey would have been the ideal combination, but Laviolette has opted for Tyler Pitlick instead.
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Pitlick snags the fourth-line roster spot from Vesey
Joining the Rangers on a fresh one-year deal signed this summer, it appears that Pitlick will be replacing Vesey on the fourth line. Pitlick is a hard-working forward who has strong puck protection abilities, but he doesn’t exactly shine anywhere else. He’s not great offensively, and although he’s solid defensively, he’s far from elite.
Pitlick should provide the most basic form of fourth-line hockey possible. He shouldn’t hurt the team in any way, but there isn’t much that he does better than Vesey. One area that Pitlick surpasses Vesey is physicality, an aspect of hockey that the Rangers were seriously lacking. He’s impressed Laviolette with aggressiveness, a contributing factor towards him earning this spot in the lineup.
“I’ve been really impressed with Tyler’s game, just from a work-ethic standpoint,” head coach Peter Laviolette said. “He skates well, he’s big, he’s strong, can play physical. I think that his game is going to be really important to add to the mix of the players that we have. Another good pickup and signing by Chris [Drury].”via Mollie Walker of NY Post
Is it a mistake to choose Pitlick over Vesey?
There’s a strong chance that both Vesey and Pitlick will be swapped in and out of the Rangers’ lineup throughout the season. One scratch isn’t a final decision, but it’s interesting to note that Pitlick gets the first chance to play. He’s not bad by any means, but Vesey seemed like the better fit to start the season.
Because it’s only the first game of the season, Laviolette isn’t making any detrimental decision by putting Pitlick in the lineup. It’s a bit of a head-scratcher, but the new head coach has another 81 games to finalize his lineup before the regular season ends and (hopefully) the playoffs begin.