The Rangers won’t have Ulf Samuelsson back on their coaching staff next season. The top assistant on Alain Vigneault’s staff was hired by the Hurricanes today. He’ll coach Carolina’s AHL affiliate Charlotte Checkers.
A former Ranger who was part of the team’s run to the Eastern Conference Final in ’97, Samuelsson was brought in by Vigneault when he was hired three years ago. He did a solid job the first two years which included a trip to the Stanley Cup Final and reaching Game 7 of the Conference Finals.
It didn’t go as well in the third year for Samuelsson or Vigneault. The decline of vets Dan Girardi and Marc Staal made life more challenging on the back end. It contributed to mightily to the defense struggling. Once a lock down team, the Rangers became notable for giving up goals late in periods and blowing leads. They also had one of the worst penalty killing units, taking a sharp decline after losing speedster Carl Hagelin.
Samuelsson was in charge of the defense. Unlike past seasons, he often mixed and matched pairings with inconsistency. Along with Vigneault’s loyalty to Girardi, they overplayed a defenseman who was never himself due to injuries. He was kept on the top pair too long before being moved down. Still a key part of the penalty kill along with Staal, he had his minutes cut at even strength down the stretch. Eventually, a poor Girardi game in the playoffs led to him being scratched before returning for Game 5 of the first round against Pittsburgh.
It wasn’t all negative. Samuelsson got a chance to work with rookies Dylan McIlrath and Brady Skjei. Both of who spent time with Hartford assistant Jeff Beukeboom. The former ’94 Cup hero should replace Samuelsson on the bench. It’s the only rational move. His work with McIlrath resulted in the former first round pick improving dramatically. Even though the coaching staff never trusted him enough, he had a good first season and should be part of the solution. So should Skjei, who definitely will have a spot regardless if Keith Yandle re-ups. His skating and poise is impressive. Skjei could be a fixture on the Rangers’ blue line for years.
As for McIlrath, they certainly lacked that physical element when he didn’t play. A big and tough throwback player similar to Beukeboom, he is needed to supplant Girardi, who can’t be a full-time regular anymore. Even if he comes back fully healthy, it’s hard to see him ever regaining the form that made him a shutdown player.
Depending on what happens with Yandle, that could determine what the D looks like. I’ve been told he wants to stay and might be willing to take a home discount. Ultimately, time will tell if that’s true. There’s still a month left before the July 1 frenzy.