Alain Vigneault confirmed yesterday that Emerson Etem would once again be dressing for the New York Rangers. Viktor Stalberg -- who was injured against the Flyers and sat out against the Flames as a precaution -- has been medically cleared to play but is taking the safe route with his injury since it was to his head. I don't think Stalberg ended up with a concussion but the Rangers still monitored the situation closely and would rather be safe than sorry. That's the right thing to do.
I'm not sure if Etem playing again tonight is because they're giving Stalberg another day to recover or if Etem's earned another look. The truth might actually fall between those two answers.
Etem had his best game of the year against the Flames (and since he's only played in two games it's not a stretch), recorded an assist and was a monster in possession. Actually, through his two games Etem is a 54% corsi (+3 overall so it's a small sample size), is a +3 in scoring chances and a +3 in high-danger scoring chances.
Basically, Etem had one great game, but I've been saying from the beginning that he has all the potential in the world to be a very good hockey player. Him getting more chances to prove that isn't a bad thing at all.
But here's the rub: with the way the Rangers are set up right now someone needs to sit every game. Last year that was the case, too, but there's an enormous difference: The Rangers are only playing quality players.
Jarret Stoll, Etem and Stalberg are the three guys fighting for the two open roster spots -- barring an injury, of course. Some of this has to do with Stoll out-hitting expectations, to an extent.
I wasn't against the Jarret Stoll signing when it happened but did outline the below:
I should add, I have no issues with Gorton taking a flyer on Stoll. Like I said above, he does bring things to the table the Rangers could use, especially with younger players on the team. In my head, though, a perfect roster has Stoll on the outside (as the 13th forward) looking in -- subsequently relegating Glass to the minors.
If Stoll is taking a guy like Lindberg's roster spot I have a problem with the decision making process (this is assuming, of course, Lindberg doesn't unexpectedly crash and burn at camp). If Stoll takes Lindberg's spot and that relegates Glass to the minors then it's a pretty significant upgrade while still not allowing the Rangers to take advantage of their lineup.
Some of this happened, just in a different order. It took the Rangers a while to waive Tanner Glass and it's taken even longer for Etem to get a foothold in this lineup (if he even has one now). Lindberg has been a man on fire from the get-go and is currently the Rangers leader in points and goals scored. He isn't going anywhere. Hockey never goes as expected, for what it's worth.
And while Stoll is playing every night it hasn't been a bad thing at all. His faceoff skills have been pleasant and his defense has been everything as advertised. Yeah, he's sporting a less-than-desirable 45% corsi but he's starting in the defensive done just 52% of the time and has seen an offensive zone draw less than 10% of the time. Those are brutal defensive assignments and he's held his head above the water.
On the other side, Stalberg has been a revelation. His speed and forechecking have been spectacular additions, he's been great in his own end and he's got four points in nine games himself. Even after being bumped to the fourth line he hasn't missed a beat and even scored from that role.
I've said before (and still believe) that Etem and Stalberg being in the bottom six is Vigneault's most skilled lineup. But Stoll and Stalberg is the most polished (and probably safer). Etem and Stoll hasn't happened enough for me to form an opinion but I actually love the offense Etem brings to that bottom pair.
Basically, for the first time in a long time I don't think the Rangers are dressing a liability. I think they have quality players up and down the lineup and it's up to Vigneault to figure out what buttons to press to get them to get over the hump.
And in that regard, I trust Vigneault implicitly. Jeff Gorton might have had to take the gun out of his hand by waiving Glass, but now that we're here there's few guys better than Vigneault behind the bench.