Ryan Lindgren knows the Rangers’ blue line is crowded with talent and running out of room.
But the 21-year-old isn’t counting himself out of that equation just yet.
The Rangers wanted to see Lindgren play both ends of the preseason back-to-back Friday and Saturday, and the defenseman responded with two solid and physical games to give the staff something to think about as it continues to shape its roster.
“Obviously there’s a lot of good D, but I think I’m right there,” Lindgren said Saturday after the Rangers’ 4-1 loss to the Flyers in Philadelphia. “I think I’m ready for the NHL and ready to play at that level.”
Coach David Quinn said he went into the back-to-back planning on playing Lindgren in both ends, but that if it had been based on merit from Friday’s game against the Devils, he still would have earned a spot in Saturday’s lineup. Lindgren responded with a team-high three blocked shots, including one that he took off his left hand, against a close-to-full-strength Flyers lineup. He skated to the bench in pain, but returned for his next shift and said he was fine afterwards.
“I like his toughness a lot,” Quinn said before the Rangers took Sunday off. “He competes, he doesn’t shy away, he’s an in-your-face type of player.”
That was especially on display Friday, when Lindgren stood up to and scrapped with Devils veteran Wayne Simmonds after a net-front battle. Saturday, after Samuel Morin squashed Rangers center Nick Jones into the boards, Lindgren challenged the Flyers defenseman before they were separated.
The battle the 6-foot, 191-pound Lindgren faces is trying to find his spot on the regular-season roster. On Friday, he was on his natural left side with Mason Geertsen on his right. On Saturday, Lindgren flipped to the right with 18-year-old Matthew Robertson on his left. Quinn said he thought it would be unfair to throw Robertson, making his preseason debut, on his off side, so he gave Lindgren a run on the right.
“But he’s a left defenseman,” Quinn said. “Lindgren’s been a left defenseman most of his life.”
The Rangers have Brady Skjei and Marc Staal as their top two defensemen on the left, with Libor Hajek penciled in as the third after an impressive showing last year, which was cut short by a shoulder injury. Jacob Trouba is Skjei’s likely partner on the right while Tony DeAngelo and Adam Fox appear to have the other two right side spots taken care of.
Lefty Brendan Smith is expected to be assigned to AHL Hartford, but the Rangers also have veteran lefty Joe Morrow on a tryout as another potential depth option.
While the seventh defenseman spot could be up for grabs, the Rangers may favor Lindgren playing full-time at AHL rather than sitting and watching in the NHL.
Lindgren, the Minnesota product the Rangers acquired in the Rick Nash trade, made his NHL debut last January with a strong three-game cameo, but he returned to Hartford during the bye week and All-Star break. The Blueshirts’ blueline used the layoff to get healthy, so Lindgren did not get a chance to come right back up. He played out the string with the Wolfpack before finally getting recalled to play in the final two games of the season.
Now he is determined to prove he belongs again.
“I think I’m a guy that plays the same night in and night out,” Lindgren said. “I know what kind of player I am, I know what I bring every game. I’m going to be physical, I’m able to use my feet in the defensive zone and break the puck out. I just do the same thing every night, or at least try to.”