The stranglehold the NHL salary cap has on Rangers could force the organization to look internally to fill gaps in the ranks in the coming seasons.
It’s a good thing that the Rangers had five years to stock up on high pull choices after announcing their rebuild with the famous 2018 letter, because the club certainly has plenty of options to choose from at certain positions. The sixth defensive line may be at stake, and two of Rangers’ own draft picks, Zac Jones and Matthew Robertson, are legitimate candidates whose president and general manager Chris Drury cannot afford to pick up another NHL-established blueliner.
After unloading veteran defender Patrik Nemeth and his $ 2.5 million cap hit over the next two seasons for the Coyotes, the Rangers may need an internal, cheap D-man to step in to ensure they can pay the limited free agent Kaapo Kakko and still has a respite on the way into the season. Jones has already had a brief look, but Robertson has yet to make his NHL debut.
Robertson, Rangers’ 49th overall pick in the 2019 NHL Draft, is attending his third development camp with the club this week. After finishing his first season with Rangers’ AHL partner, Hartford Wolf Pack, Robertson agreed that it is more urgent to impress.
“My goal next year is to get to Rangers,” he said. “I think it’s a big offseason for me and it’s going to be a big year next year. I learned a lot last year, just by being in Hartford and just with my little time spent just practicing with them and watching. , how they feel out there and how they behave and how they practice.When watching the playoffs, it’s just another animal.
“When I have that experience now and get all that under my belt, knowing a little more what I can expect next camp, it rises urgently.”
Although Robertson and Jones are not included in the opening list, Rangers are an injury from having to dive into their defensive depth. Along with Jones and Robertson, Rangers also currently have Jarred Tinordi on contract for one more season, as well as Libor Hajek, who has just signed a $ 800,000 one-year deal.
Nils Lundkvist, who is entering the second season of his three-year entry-level agreement, is also an option. After an overwhelming 25-match cameo last season, Lundkvist was sent down to Hartford for the rest of the regular season.
Considering Rangers have looked at all of the aforementioned defenders except Robertson, the 6-foot-4, 201-pound may just be in line for a shot sooner rather than later.
“He had a great year, his first professional year, all year,” Rangers player development director Jed Ortmeyer said of Robertson. “He made some great progress. He played really well for us at Hartford. He’s a fantastic defender, he’s moving well and he’s great. It was not much of an adjustment for him in professional hockey. We’re excited to see how big a summer he has. He got a taste that the NHL playoffs were a black ace. Just a lot of momentum going forward for him. “
Last season, Robertson had one goal and 10 assists with 36 penalty minutes in 65 AHL competitions. He said he learned a lot while playing against bigger, faster and stronger players than those he met in five seasons in the Western Hockey League with the Edmonton Oil Kings.
In close collaboration with Hartford assistant coach Steve Smith, Robertson said he focused on improving his positioning, angles and other details to be more effective in the defensive zone. He also worked on getting his shot through the traffic and recognizing when to jump on the bandwagon.
Robertson played with several partners in the defense at Hartford, including Zach Giuttari, Jones and Lundkvist. But he started the year alongside Braden Schneider, who as a rookie quickly secured his place on Rangers’ third pair after being called up in mid-January, when Lundkvist was sent down.
“I talked to [Schneider] a little while I was black, Robertson said, referring to his call to Rangers’ reserve during the playoffs. “I’m pretty close to him, so we talked all year round and a little bit this summer. How the transition was for him and how his game has evolved.
“For him, the biggest difference, he said, was just the flow of the game, keeping the pace of the game going. You can’t really slow it down, you have to make the first game you see and play fast.”
Seeing Schneider switch to the NHL, Robertson said, gave him more motivation to do the same. Watching the NHL playoffs relatively closely also gave Robertson more incentive. He said he got goosebumps as long as he was nearby.
Robertson’s first chance to join the NHL fold may just be just around the corner.
“I think I’m ready,” Robertson said when asked if he could jump to the NHL. “Of course there are things to work on this summer, but come to camp, it will be a test for me.”