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Kevin Hayes Injury Keeps The Lights On For Forward Auditions

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NHL: Los Angeles Kings at New York Rangers Andy Marlin-USA TODAY Sports

First of all, it’s Bell Let’s Talk Day, so go on Twitter and hashtag #BellLetsTalk after tweets to raise money for mental healthy. It’s a good cause, costs you nothing but time and helps people who really need it.

Believe it or not, the New York Rangers are still having auditions for roster spots. Yes, with the All Star break looming. Yes, 48 games into the season. Yes, as the team approaches the trade deadline.

No, these auditions really aren’t happening where they’re sorely needed (the defense) but they’re happening nonetheless.

Kevin Hayes will miss two to three weeks with a lower body injury, and missed his first game Monday night against the Kings. The Rangers won that game 3-2, thanks to goals from both Brandon Pirri and Matt Puempel. Regardless of that duo moving up to the top-six thanks to demotions to Chris Kreider and Pavel Buchnevich, the moment was somewhat ironic: Two players fighting for their lineup lives against each other doing what they need to be doing.

Puempel probably has a bit of an internal lead on Pirri, simply because he’s produced more in the short time he’s been able to play here (between the waiver pickup and his concussion). I’ve already questioned whether or not the Pirri experiment is going to end, and since then he’s potted two goals.

Jesper Fast is an Alain Vigneault darling, and when he returns from injury he will absolutely be thrown back into the lineup. That pulls one spot away — presumably from one of the two.

There’s absolutely a case to be made (longer story alert) that Jimmy Vesey should start sitting some games out. Not as a punishment, but as a form of rest for a guy who has never played more than 37 games at the NCAA level. It’s not surprising that he’s hit a wall and it’s not surprising that he would need a rest. Maybe the All Star break will help him out a little, but rotating him in and out for a bit wouldn’t be the dumbest idea.

Regardless, once this lineup is fully formed it will look something like this:

Buchnevich - Zibanejad - Nash

Zuccarello - Stepan - Kreider

Miller - Hayes - Grabner

Vesey - Lindberg - Fast (Pirri/Puempel)

There’s a real possibility we might see a lineup without both Pirri and Puempel — which speaks to the vast amount of talent in this lineup (at least at forward). There’s something special here, and it’s not even like there’s veterans filling holes that could be handled by younger players. Nash and Grabner are the elder statesman and both are in their early 30’s. At the end of the day, the core is young and they’re bright.

The Hayes (and right now Fast) injuries are helping make space for guys who are fighting for a role on this team. It might be a good opportunity to make the competition really difficult.

Which only makes the Rangers better.