By Sean Hartnett
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Sometimes in order to go forward, you must first take a step back. Spurned on by injuries and a failure to meet expectations, the Rangers are in the process of undergoing a necessary selloff ahead of the Feb. 26 trade deadline.
The situation has opened the door for the youth movement.
The Rangers are currently without regular defensemen Ryan McDonagh (upper-body injury), Kevin Shattenkirk (knee surgery), Marc Staal (cervical strain) and Steven Kampfer (broken hand). Additionally, Brendan Smith’s substandard play has landed him a ticket to minor-league Hartford.
The injury pileup has afforded a slew of young blue liners regular NHL minutes. Neal Pionk, John Gilmour, Tony DeAngelo and Ryan Sproul have made the jump from the AHL and are making their cases to begin next season with the big club. Their infusion of hungry, desperate play has allowed the Rangers to win two of their last three games.
After a succession of win-now seasons, the Rangers aren’t in the business of adding veteran pieces at the trade deadline. The development of youngsters such as Pionk, DeAngelo, Gilmour and forward Vinni Lettieri isn’t being roadblocked by rental players and ambitious, expensive acquisitions. There appears to be a relaxed aura of clarity around the Rangers. The atmosphere is no longer about keeping up with the Joneses. It has shifted to, “We like and believe in our youth. Let’s see where it takes us.’”
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Pionk, DeAngelo and Gilmour have added lifeblood to a Rangers team that was flatlining through their speed, puck-carrying skill, offensive instincts and playmaking vision. The trio combined for three points and 14 shots on goal in Tuesday’s 3-2 road defeat to the Minnesota Wild.
After the Rangers went down 3-0 in the opening six minutes of the first period, they were soon handed a power play opportunity. DeAngelo sent a cross-ice pass into Gilmour’s wheelhouse, and the 24-year-old uncorked a blistering one-timer past Wild goaltender Devan Dubnyk.
DeAngelo and Gilmour have filled the void left by the absence of power play regulars Shattenkirk and McDonagh. They’re averaging 2:15 and 2:11 of ice time per game on the power play, respectively, and are running the man-up…