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Martin St. Louis ready to return tomorrow; Rangers sign Brady Skjei

Bobby Bevilacqua

martin st louis 11-1

Martin St. Louis will make his return to the Rangers lineup tomorrow night, after missing the previous eight games with a knee injury. Photo courtesy of MSG Photos.

Martin St. Louis and Alain Vigneault both confirmed this afternoon that the veteran winger would be making his return to action tomorrow night when the Rangers take on the Minnesota Wild at the Xcel Energy Center. St. Louis has been out of the lineup since March 15th with a sprained MCL in his right knee.

“I’m not used to not being part [of the lineup],” St. Louis said when asked about if he was excited about returning to the team. “I don’t know what the amount of games I’ve missed in my career is, but I know it’s not a lot.”

St. Louis was feeling better ahead of yesterday’s game in Winnipeg, and participated in the morning skate, but both Alain Vigneault and he opted to give him a full practice today in Minnesota. During practice, Marty was skating on a very interesting line combination alongside Carl Hagelin and Kevin Hayes.

St. Louis spent a lot of time alongside Hagelin last year at the end of the regular season and during the playoffs, so some familiarity is there. St. Louis has never skated with Hayes, but says he knows what to expect from the rookie.

“I know what Hayes’ game is. I’ve seen it up close and I’ve seen it from the press box in the last few games,” St. Louis said. I understand his strengths. You try to play you game, but at the same time, you’re trying to play within his strengths too. He’s a lefty centerman, I’m playing on the right side, I’m going to try and push people back and create space.”

Judging by that quote alone, it’s easy to see how St. Louis’ experience and immense hockey knowledge is going to benefit Hayes, and add more depth to the line. St. Louis knows how to play with everyone, and brings out the strengths in everyone around him.

martin st. louis skating 1-31

St. Louis’ veteran presence and tremendous hockey knowledge will help players like Hayes and Hagelin when it comes to making the right play, as well as teaching them on the ice. Photo courtesy of MSG Photos.

 

“If he’s playing with us, first of all he’s going to bring a lot of excitement,” Carl Hagelin said to media following the practice today. “Coming back from injury, he’s going to skate a lot and be involved. He’s a fun player to play with. A lot of things usually happen [with him]. He knows the game better than most guys. Just try and get open and read off them.”

By sliding St. Louis down to the third line, that means that Vigneault decided to stick with what he dubbed the “All-American Line.” Chris Kreider, Derek Stepan, and JT Miller all skated together in last night’s game, and was one of the most effective lines in the game, with Kreider scoring the game winning goal. It was the first time that the trio was together, and it seemed to work.

“I thought overall that line was pretty effective at both ends of the rink,” Vigneault said about the Stepan line. “It was the first time that we tried those three. I’m not 100 percent sure that’s what I’m going to do, but I would say I’m at least 90 percent sure that’s how we’re going to start off tomorrow.”

I actually wrote about the possibility of trying St. Louis on the third line a few weeks ago. It’s not meant to be an insult to St. Louis, but rather a complement to JT Miller’s play, and a way to balance out all three lines.

It’s easy to see that Vigneault’s leash on Miller has lengthened substantially, giving him the confidence to go out and just play his game. In St. Louis’ absence, Miller has filled in very well as a top six forward, scoring a few goals, adding an element of physicality, and creating chances for those around him, like with his assist on Kreider’s goal. He has worked extremely hard in his development to become a better two-way player, and it has shown as the season has progressed.

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Like Kevin Hayes, JT Miller has really grown as a player throughout the season. He is better in all three zones, and is contributing offensively as well. Photo courtesy of MSG Photos.

 

Also, by placing St. Louis on the line with Kevin Hayes and Carl Hagelin, it prevents the Rangers lineup from getting too top heavy, meaning that all of the stars and elite players aren’t cramped into one or two lines. It also creates a dynamic third line with all of the right elements; speed, skill, and scoring ability.

With St. Louis on the third line, it also creates matchup problems for opposing teams. Just by being on the ice, he draws attention away from his teammates, leaving more room for Hayes and Hagelin to work. Also, opposing teams have to risk leaving their third defensive pairing out when St. Louis is on the ice in order to cover the top two lines, or use their better defenseman on the Hayes line and leave guys like Nash up against lower pairing defensemen. It causes havoc on the back end for opposing teams.

Also, by placing St. Louis on the line with Kevin Hayes and Carl Hagelin, it prevents the Rangers lineup from getting too top heavy, meaning that all of the stars and elite players aren’t cramped into one or two lines. It also creates a dynamic third line with all of the right elements; speed, skill, and scoring ability.

And it’s not like Vigneault is throwing St. Louis on a line with nobody else around him, but is instead giving him all of the tools to succeed.

Carl Hagelin played well with St. Louis last season, especially in the playoffs. St. Louis is a playmaker, and his style of play meshes well with Hagelin’s blazing speed for a very nice combination that is certainly a threat to score some goals.

On top of that, Kevin Hayes has been arguably the Rangers’ most consistent center in the past two months. After a slow start to the season that saw Hayes adjusting to the NHL style of play, he has blossomed as of late, and is a highly skilled player now. In the last 30 games, Hayes has recorded a total of 23 points (9-14-23). Since February 1st, Hayes has averaged 3.17 points per 60 minutes, which happens to be higher that Sidney Crosby (3.12) in that same span. Hayes is a tremendous possession player, and always finds the open player. Pairing him alongside St. Louis will be a lot of fun to watch.

Kevin Hayes 10-19

Kevin Hayes has developed into one of the Rangers most consistent centers, tallying 23 points in the last 30 games and controlling play with his puck possession, skill with the puck, and his passing ability. Photo courtesy of MSG Photos.

 

As a result of St. Louis being re-inserted into the lineup, Jesper Fast slid down to the fourth line alongside Tanner Glass and Dominic Moore. James Sheppard was skating with the defenseman, and is expected to be a healthy scratch.

The time away from the lineup has seemed to give St. Louis a spark, and a hunger to get back out on the ice and play.

“I’ve never enjoyed the time away from [the game] and away from the guys and not being in the battle,” St. Louis said after today’s practice.”That’s all I know. When people ask ‘what would you be if you weren’t a hockey player,’ I say I have no clue. My whole life, I’ve dedicated myself to being a hockey player and this is one of those things where it’s all I know.”

“That’s all I want to be,” St. Louis proclaimed. “I get a chance to be that again tomorrow night.

In other news, the Rangers reached an agreement with 2012 first round draft pick Brady Skjei, pronounced “Shay,” on an entry level contract. He will forego his senior season at the University of Minnesota and report to the Hartford Wolf Pack where he will finish out the season with the team. An agreement on an ATO means that Skjei’s ELC won’t kick in until next season.

brady skjei minnesota

Brady Skjei has agreed to an ELC with the Rangers and will finish out the season with the Hartford Wolf Pack. Photo courtesy of Chris Szagola/Associated Press.

 

Skjei, a Minnesota native, just celebrated his 21st birthday last week after his team was eliminated from the NCAA tournament. In his junior year with the program, Skjei was limited to just 33 games due to an injury, and he totaled 10 points (1-9-10) in those games.

His best collegiate season came during his sophomore campaign, where he appeared in 40 games and posted career highs in goals (6), assists (8), and points (14).  Skjei has drawn comparisons to current Rangers Captain Ryan McDonagh, and is known for his tremendous skating ability. Combine that with his 6-feet-3 inch, 206 pound frame, and Skjei is a formidable force in front of his own net.

It will be interesting to see how Skjei performs with Hartford in their eight remaining games. If he plays well enough, Skjei could earn himself a postseason roster call up, like Chris Kreider did in 2012.

Follow The Ranger Zone on Twitter (The_RangerZone) for breaking news, updates, and more.

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Posted on April 1, 2015, in Rangers Updates and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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