‘Rangers Inside And Out’
By Sean Hartnett
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John Tortorella continues to write Stu Bickel’s name into his lineup game after game. The 25-year-old rookie defenseman continues to show little progress and ends up isolated at the end of the Rangers’ bench as spectator for the majority of 60 minutes.
What’s the point in persisting with a player who can barely scrape five minutes in total ice time and tends to commit costly turnovers during the limited time he’s actually skating?
There was a moment in Game 2 where Bickel tried to provoke David Clarkson into a fight and Clarkson wasn’t taking the bait. Peter DeBoer advised Clarkson earlier this season to take less fighting majors as his production and physicality is important to the Devils’ success.
Clarkson knew he’d be sacrificing his value to the Devils by leaving the ice for five minutes without taking a star player with him. After all, it wasn’t Ryan Callahan or Brian Boyle who was challenging him to a scrap.
Early into the third period, Bickel shoveled a pass along the boards instead of looking up and passing off to near teammate Michael Del Zotto. Bickel’s errant pass allowed Marek Zidlickly to circle behind the net. Bickel left his spot and wildly chased after Zidlickly which allowed Clarkson to set up in front of goal.
Bickel passed by Clarkson without noticing where the Devils’ power forward was positioned. By the time Adam Henrique wound-up from the point, Clarkson was unmarked and scored an easily-redirected goal, which proved to be the game-winner.
While Ryan McDonagh and Dan Girardi can handle the 25-minute nightly workloads, it wouldn’t hurt to have a player who can play in more situations than Bickel.
That player clearly isn’t Steve Eminger who hasn’t played for the Rangers since April 28 and only received 4:25 minutes of total ice time. Before that date, Eminger’s previous game action was on March 15.
Tim Erixon was added to the Rangers’ postseason roster on Monday along with five other players who were called up from the Connecticut Whale after the Rangers’ minor league affiliate was eliminated from the AHL playoffs.
With the taste of the playoffs still fresh in his legs, Erixon is ready to jump into the NHL playoffs should Tortorella call upon him.
The 21-year-old rookie scored 4 points in 9 AHL playoff games and was an overall plus-1. Over the course of the AHL season, Erixon totaled 33 points in 52 games which is a pretty good return from a defenseman.
Despite his inexperience of only playing 18 career NHL games (all this season), Erixon offers more offensive upside than Bickel. He is regarded as an important prospect in the Rangers’ long-term future and scouts rave about his on-ice vision.
Earlier this season, Tortorella spoke about Erixon’s attributes.
“Tim sees the ice extremely well, we know that, but defense is the toughest position in the game and we need to teach him positioning,” Tortorella said. “He needs to learn about taking away time and pace, closing the gap in the neutral zone, and understanding how to play away from the puck.”
Now, with the AHL seasoning under his belt, some of the rough patches Erixon’s game have been addressed. Whether or not he’s ready to be inserted into the Rangers’ lineup at this late stage of the playoffs is entirely up to Tortorella.
We’ve all seen how quickly Chris Kreider has taken to the NHL playoffs, but he’s a rarity and making the jump as a defenseman is significantly more challenging.
Currently, Erixon is skating with the ‘Black Aces’ A.KA., the Rangers’ taxi squad but certainly couldn’t do worse than struggling bystander Stu Bickel.
Should Bickel be pulled from the Rangers lineup? Is Erixon ready to make the jump into the NHL playoffs? Share your thoughts below and send your tweets to @HartnettWFAN.