Sports News: Will Cuylle’s NHL debut gives Rangers needed physical boost

Will Cuylle will make his NHL debut with the Rangers Wednesday night against the Maple Leafs in front of his friends and family in his home city of Toronto.

Sometimes, the story naturally unfolds better than it could’ve ever been written. This is one of those times, as Cuylle prepares to begin his NHL career two years, three months and 20 days after the Rangers traded Lias Andersson to the Kings for the right to draft the big-bodied winger in 2020.

It may be the birth of Cuylle’s career, but the Rangers’ corresponding move indicated the potential downfall of another.

In addition to recalling Cuylle from Hartford for the first time, the Rangers subsequently sent Sammy Blais down to the Wolf Pack for a two-week conditioning assignment. Blais, who hasn’t been the same player since suffering a season-ending ACL tear 14 games into last season, had to agree to the AHL stint, over which the 26-year-old winger will skate in six games with the Wolf Pack through the NHL bye week.

Sports News: Will Cuylle’s NHL debut gives Rangers needed physical boost
William Cuylle, right, skates against the New Jersey Devils at the Prudential Center on Sept. 30, 2022 in Newark, New Jersey.
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Blais is still getting paid his NHL salary and he will still count against the cap and the roster, meaning the Rangers are now carrying the max 23 players and not accruing as much cap space with 39 days until the trade deadline.

“Just go down there and play some big minutes and hopefully things go well for him,” head coach Gerard Gallant said of what he hopes Blais will get out of the conditioning assignment. “He hasn’t played bad for us when he’s played, he’s played 8/9/10 minutes most games. He hasn’t gotten into a groove. He hasn’t had any luck this year. Hopefully, some good things will happen to him down there.”

The two moves came on the heels of a 6-2 win over the Panthers, which, despite the score, Gallant wasn’t thrilled with. Even though the fourth line was particularly manhandled Monday night, getting out-attempted 8-0 in 6:49 of ice time together, Gallant said bringing in Cuylle wasn’t a direct response to that.

Cuylle was leading the Wolf Pack with 13 goals in 39 games while primarily playing in a top-six role. His 20 points were also good for third on the team, behind only Turner Elson’s 23 and Tanner Fritz’s 21. The hope is that Cuylle can give the fourth line more of a physical look with his 6-foot-3, 211-pound frame.

Sammy Blais (91) of the Rangers skates against the Devils at the Prudential Center on Jan. 7, 2023 in Newark, New Jersey.
Sammy Blais (91) of the Rangers skates against the Devils at the Prudential Center on Jan. 7, 2023 in Newark, New Jersey.
Getty Images

“I think just my hard work, my work ethic,” he said of what he wants to bring to the Rangers. “I’ve been scoring a bit down in the AHL and I think I’m just going to bring lots of energy on the forecheck here and maybe try to put a couple goals in the net, as well.”

The 20-year-old Cuylle expressed confidence in his ability to adjust to a new role in New York, saying that he considers himself to be reliable defensively. In practice on Tuesday, he skated on the fourth line with Jake Leschyshyn, Julien Gauthier and Vitali Kravtsov, who will probably be a healthy scratch after a run of 17 games.

Having scored five goals in the last eight games, Cuylle’s confidence should be in a good place. His ice time will be significantly less, however, so it may take him some time to adjust to a point where he can contribute offensively.

“All my family’s there, going to have lots of friends and family, so it’s pretty exciting,” Cuylle said of Toronto. “If I could pick a spot other than MSG to have a game, it would probably be there.”

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