New York Rangers, Will Cuylle

Expectations for Rangers’ Will Cuylle in First Full Season

General manager Chris Drury spent on a budget this offseason, bringing in veteran depth forwards to fill the vacancies in the New York Rangers’ bottom six. With newfound depth and a glut of one-way contracts, it was a long shot for anyone to surprise enough this training camp to bulldoze their way onto the roster. Enter 21-year-old Will Cuylle.

Cuylle, a second-round selection by the Rangers back in 2020, was too noticeable on the ice to send down. After a brief four-game stint with the Blueshirts last season, the winger has forced his way onto the roster and looks poised for a spot in the opening night lineup.

His all-around game was so strong for the entirety of the preseason that he might very well usurp Jimmy Vesey, arguably the Rangers’ best defensive forward a year ago, from the lineup. For what was one of the youngest NHL teams just a few seasons ago, the Rangers are now climbing the ranks toward one of the oldest. Adding Cuylle to the lineup brings a new influx of youth to the roster that is desperately needed.

Usage is the next big question for Cuylle, which head coach Peter Laviolette’s practice lines seem to indicate may be a large one. Per Mollie Walker of the NY Post, the Rangers’ practice lines look like the following:

Playing alongside Filip Chytil and Artemi Panarin would be a fantastic opportunity for the young forward. His nose for the net seemingly complements the playstyles of his linemates, who usually shoot and create from outside the dots. But what are the realistic expectations for Cuylle in his first entire season on Broadway?

Cuylle Must Continue His Preseason Play During Regular Season

Cuylle has two goals and an assist during the preseason, making plays with and without the puck and earning a spot on the Rangers’ final roster. The offense increased his chances of earning a spot, but the little things and intangibles solidified it.

While the Rangers struggled to win games and play a full 60 minutes of hockey, Cuylle was noticeable almost every time he was on the ice. Whether it was his physical game, shot-blocking ability, zone exits and entries, or production, the second-round pick was in the middle of everything.

Now, the question at hand is, what are fair expectations to place on Cuylle? That question becomes more challenging when you look at some of the higher-picked players who have yet to find their game, for example, Alexis Lafreniere. If playing in the top nine, especially if he primarily slots on the right side of Chytil and Panarin, 40-plus points seems to be a realistic mark for the young forward.

Related Story: Rangers’ Preseason Positives And Negatives

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Production will be more challenging to come by in the regular season than in the preseason, but the way Cuylle scored his goals will translate well to a real campaign. He scores gritty goals around the net front, a place that all successful NHL goal scorers must go to. He was not relying solely on his skillset to create, and playing with two highly skilled guys will allow him to stay inside his comfort zone.

The Rangers lack footspeed throughout the lineup. At 6-foot-3 and 210 pounds, Cuylle’s size, physicality, and above-average speed make his presence a welcome addition to the lineup. He must continue that style of play from the preseason into the regular season.

Expectations for Cuylle in 2023-24

In 69 games last season for the Hartford Wolf Pack, Cuylle registered 25 goals and 20 assists for 45 points. It was an impressive first professional season, and now he will have to impress again at the next level. Luckily, his linemates with the Rangers are poised to be point producers. He should be able to contribute offensively at the same clip he did in Hartford last year.

Expectations for Cuylle are not solely measured in points and offensive statistics. He needs to be productive on both sides of the puck. Blocked shots, quality defensive plays, and poise with the puck in his own end will all be factors in whether he can sustain his roster spot over 82 games.

If he opens up alongside Chytil and Panarin, it would be the first game action the trio would play together. During the preseason, Cuylle had a 62.20 Corsi for percentage (CF%) when on the ice at five-on-five, per Natural Stat Trick. Cuylle only played 37 seconds with Panarin at five-on-five, but he did play 11 minutes with Chytil, posting a 50% CF%.

Should things not work out in game one, Laviolette may be inclined to try another combination, such as Cuylle with Vincent Trochek and Blake Wheeler. That trio posted a 70.59 CF% in nearly 10 minutes of action together. Again, Cuylle’s expectations must be tempered until we know what his regular season role will be and how many minutes he will play nightly.

Blake Wheeler New York Rangers
Blake Wheeler, New York Rangers (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

But based on the offseason expectations and the post-preseason lineup, his role looks to be increasing daily. I expect Cuylle to have 40 points and play at least 15 minutes a night. Watching the 21-year-old develop this season while getting a true shot at being an everyday NHL player will be great.

The Rangers took a chance, giving Cuylle the final roster spot. Now, the former Windsor Spitfire standout will try and prove that the preseason he had was not a fluke but an accurate representation of how he plays every game.

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