Rangers, Canucks playing for the future
The Vancouver Canucks and New York Rangers will be playing for their self-respect Wednesday night.
And for jobs next season.
The Rangers' visit to Vancouver is more about the future than the present as the two likely playoff also-rans try to get a glimpse of what their rebuilding programs can produce.
In Vancouver's case, the future is about 19-year-old defenseman Quinn Hughes, who could make his highly anticipated NHL debut after signing with the Canucks upon the completion of his collegiate career with the University of Michigan last weekend.
Hughes traveled to Vancouver on Tuesday, but the Fort Lauderdale, Fla., native's status for Wednesday is in doubt because of a foot injury he suffered in the first game of the best-of-three Big Ten playoffs. He played in the second game of the series, which the Wolverines lost to Minnesota to end their season, and is due to be evaluated before he suits up for the Canucks.
"He's an exciting part of our future and I'm hoping that I get to see him sooner rather than later," coach Travis Green told reporters.
"I plan on getting him in (the lineup) if he's here, that's for sure. I want to play him as much as I can."
Hughes, 5-foot-10 and 175 pounds, fits the mold of young, fast and offensively gifted players who have revamped the NHL in recent years. Known for his puck-handling skills and offensive prowess, he is expected to boost a stagnant power play and give the Canucks more offence from the back end once he hits his prime.
He will become the latest of several young players slotted into the Canucks lineup in the past three years. Fans have been waiting for the rebuilding program to pay dividends, but they still could be forced to wait longer.
The Canucks have just four wins in their past 17 games and a playoff spot, once considered possible, is virtually - if not mathematically - out of reach.
"But we still have to take the bull by the horns and play for something - for the fans and for the team," winger Antoine Roussel told Postmedia. "The grit has to be there. You don't want to go out there and play easy. ... You can't play casual or be known as a guy who throws in the towel and I told some guys when you don't make the playoffs, teams change and there's a lot of movement."
Green suggested the Canucks still have plenty of incentive to play well, even though he has to "push buttons with some players."
"We have a lot of guys playing for a lot next year and whether they're on the team or not," Green said.
So do the Rangers.
The Blueshirts are coming off an overtime loss in Edmonton on Monday and have only two wins in their past 10 games, both against another non-contender, the New Jersey Devils. The Rangers have struggled since they amped up their rebuilding program by sending forwards Jimmy Hayes and Mats Zuccarello to Winnipeg and Dallas, respectively, at the trade deadline.
Some young Rangers, such as forward Brendan Lemieux, acquired from Winnipeg in the deal for Hayes, are seeking to earn more ice time. Meanwhile, older Rangers, such as defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk, are fighting to keep their jobs.
Lemieux, 22, has five points in seven games with the Rangers after only producing 11 in 44 contests with Winnipeg. He appears to be making the most of his increased ice time.
"That's what I've loved about being here is I'm playing when the game counts," Lemieux told teehe New York Post. "I feel like the trust is there, it's just managing my minutes."
Conversely, Shattenkirk, 30, is trying to regain coach David Quinn's trust after being a healthy scratch against Detroit recently.
"We had a long talk not only about right now, but about what he's going to have to continue to do moving forward in his career, as most guys as they hit 30 are going to have to do, especially in this NHL," Quinn told the Post. "The NHL these guys are playing in now isn't the NHL that it was two years ago. He's fully understanding of that."
In other words, Shattenkirk is having difficulty keeping pace in today's faster NHL. Quinn said Shattenkirk, once a dominant power-play quarterback, needs to speed up his game.
"There are definitely areas I can improve upon, especially on the power play," Shattenkirk told the Post. "I need to make faster decisions. And for me, the power play acts as a catalyst for my whole game. When I feel good there, it's a huge boost for me."
Quinn also wants Shattenkirk, who has slowed down since suffering a knee injury in training camp in 2017, to be quicker in five-on-five situations. The New Rochelle, N.Y., native is confident that he can.
"I know what I have to do," Shattenkirk said. "I know how I have to play."
--Field Level Media
Updated March 12, 2019