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Colin Blackwell has been a great story for New York Rangers

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The underdog of the year

New York Rangers v New York Islanders Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

Colin Blackwell never scored more than six goals in an NCAA season during his time at Harvard. He was a 7th round pick of the San Jose Sharks in the 2011 Draft and seemed destined to ply his trade in the AHL as an undersized forward. The New York Rangers inked him to a two-year deal with an AAV of $725,000 likely as a result of him averaging 0.71 P/GP in the AHL the past two seasons with the Milwaukee Admirals, with some time with the Nashville Predators sprinkled in. He made the Rangers’ taxi squad and after making his debut has been a fixture when he’s been healthy.

How did this happen? Well, here are some fun facts about Blackwell’s 2020-21 season.

  • Blackwell has six goals in his last seven games — just before the trade deadline.
  • He is tied for second on the team in 5-on-5 goals (9) with Ryan Strome and is tied for fourth on the team in goals in all situations (12). He now has as many goals this year as Artemiy Panarin (though he’s played in two more games).
  • He’s shooting 25.0 percent at 5-on-5 and 26.09% in all situations. Among skaters who have been on the ice for at least 300 minutes this season, he has the third highest shooting percentage in the league.
  • His 1.74 G/60 (all situations) is third among all NHL skaters who have played at least 15 games this season. Only Auston Matthews (2.06) and Tyler Toffoli (1.91) have a higher G/60.

Okay, you get the idea. Colin Blackwell, who had 33 games of NHL experience prior to signing with the Rangers, is shooting the lights out. He’s punching above his weight, has unsustainable production, and may or may not be a Ranger after the trade deadline. If the Rangers don’t sell high on him at the deadline, he’ll be exposed in the expansion draft to the Seattle Kraken. But why would the Kraken claim a guy like Blackwell? He’ll be a 29-year-old UFA after next season.

It’s easy to be cynical about Blackwell’s production when you look at the underlying numbers. Of course he can’t continue to score on one out of of the four shots he puts on net — or 14.81 of his total shot attempts in all situations. But if you don’t love this underdog story you might not have a pulse. This is the kind of story that makes hockey great.

Ultimately, the real story here is what Blackwell’s unexpected brilliance has meant for the rest of the roster. He’s nearly level with Alexis Lafrenière in average ice time at 5-on-5 (11:21 for Blackwell, 11:54 for Lafrenière) and he has kept Julien Gauthier out of the lineup for 13 games this season. But how do you scratch this guy? He takes hits to make plays, he hustles, and he finishes.

Ryan Strome is on record comparing Blackwell to former Ranger and locker room favorite Jesper Fast. That’s interesting not only because one of the standing questions heading into the season was who would or could step into Fast’s role — the safe bet was Kevin Rooney — but also because the Rangers opted not to keep the two-way Swedish winger in New York in part because roles and roster spots needed to be available for kids like Kaapo Kakko, Julien Gauthier, and Vitali Kravtsov to prove themselves.

We’ve all heard the narrative that the NHL is not a developmental league. It seems to come up quite a bit when David Quinn is criticized for the way he distributes ice time and opportunity on the youngest team in the NHL. Again, it’s not Blackwell’s “fault” that we haven’t seen more of Gauthier but his success is part of that story. It’s also a story to keep in mind with the deadline looming.

Blackwell could be an attractive depth option to the right buyer. But this year’s market and deadline has been particularly difficult to predict. If someone is ready to buy into the hype the Rangers have been enjoying, a deal should absolutely be done. But, chances are, everyone recognizes this for what it is. A great hockey story that will end as soon as Blackwell comes back down to earth.

Data courtesy of naturalstattrick.com and theahl.com. Salary information courtesy of CapFriendly.com.