The New York Rangers announced on Wednesday afternoon that they have signed college free-agent Ryan Haggerty to an entry-level deal. Haggerty will report directly to the Rangers on Sunday, bypassing the AHL for the 2013-14 season.
His coming to New York is necessitated by rule, not by need. Because Haggerty inked his contract after the trade deadline, he is ineligible to play in Hartford this season. Still, one has to figure the Blueshirts made the move with the intention of getting Haggerty in the lineup.
Otherwise, what’s the point?
Many fans asked the same question when the Rangers called Chris Kreider to New York during the 2012 playoffs. Kreider was a junior at Boston College at the time, fresh off a National Championship season with the Eagles. The Rangers were the number-one seed in the East, fresh off a sparkling 51-win campaign.
Glen Sather and Co. thought Kreider could help, so they rationalized burning the first year of his three-year entry level contract by looking at his college statistics that season: 23 goals and 45 points in 44 games. And then they justified their decision by unleashing the big winger in 18 games that spring, in which Kreider tallied five goals and seven points.
And now Haggerty, out of RPI, presents a similar scenario. The talented forward put up big-time numbers this season for the Engineers, posting 28 goals and 43 points over 35 games. In the process, Haggerty, who finished third in the NCAA in goals, emerged as one of the purest scorers in college hockey. It makes sense that the Rangers, 19th in the league in goals per game, would want to bring the kid on board.
In doing so, of course, they have burned that first (cheap) year of his contract. To make the endeavor worthwhile, the logic says, Haggerty has to play. And there seems to be little doubt that the 6-0 forward can make a difference, at least on the offensive side of the puck. Earlier today, ESPN’s John Buccigross wrote via twitter, “He flat out can score goals – elite goal scorer with an NHL scoring shot.”
At the risk of presumption, the Rangers seem to have found something here.
But the question isn’t one of Haggerty’s capability. No one’s wondering whether or not he can hack it with the Rangers. The conundrum here starts and ends with “how.” As in, how does Haggerty fit in the team’s lineup?
For a little over two months now, Alain Vigneault has rolled the same top-nine forwards, only making changes when injury has necessitated it. If the line combinations for the Blueshirts aren’t carved in stone, they’re certainly written on the wall:
1. Kreider – Stepan – Nash.
2. Hagelin – Richards – St. Louis (formerly Callahan.)
3. Pouliot – Brassard – Zuccarello.
Unlike in 2012, when there was a void among the team’s top-nine for Kreider to fill, the Rangers’ forward group in 2014 is harder to crack. Haggerty won’t play on the first line so we can rule that out from the start. The last thing the second line needs, fresh off the addition of St. Louis, is another rearrangement. And the third line has been the Blueshirts’ most consistent unit for almost two months now.
In all likelihood, Haggerty is here as a fallback alternative. As Herb Brooks (Kurt Russell) said after announcing the initial roster for the 1980 Olympics, “I’m putting a few of you on reserve in case somebody gets injured, or their game goes to hell.” In short, that’s what it will take for Haggerty to see ice time with the Rangers this season.
But don’t count out injury, and certainly don’t count out demonic repossession of anyone’s ability. When either scenario unfolds, it will be Haggerty who likely enters the fray.
And at that point, don’t count out his ability to make an impact.