Rangers leave for Toronto, Hamilton’s status doubtful for Hurricanes

As the Rangers flew out to Toronto for the rest of the foreseeable future, they will be one of eight Eastern teams competing in the expanded Stanley Cup Tournament which begins in six days.

The masks are in supply as pictured above courtesy the official Rangers Twitter account. Now, they’ll be in the bubble making preparations for the Hurricanes. That’ll include a exhibition tuneup on Wednesday against the rival Islanders, who’ll be doing battle versus the Panthers. Both teams are looking to advance into the real Stanley Cup Tournament. Eight of sixteen teams competing in the preliminary round will move on to the Round of 16.

While all systems are go for the Rangers, who haven’t been hit by the injury bug, the Hurricanes could be missing a key player. Unrelated to his previous injury, defenseman Dougie Hamilton is hurt. As reported below by Carolina beat reporter Sara Civian of The Athletic, the top right defenseman could be out week to week. If that’s true, his status is in doubt.

That would be a significant loss for the Canes. Especially given the skating, puck possession and offense Hamilton brings from the blueline. In 47 games, the 27-year old was on pace for a career season. He led all Canes defensemen in scoring with 40 points (14-26-40) along with a plus-30 rating. The breakdown was 27 even strength points and 12 on the power play. Plus a shorthanded assist.

Hamilton averaged 23:17 of ice-time in the regular season. Only ace shutdown D Jaccob Slavin averaged more going 23:24 over 68 games. He is the second leading point getter from the Carolina back end, chipping in with six goals, 30 assists and 36 points along with a plus-30. A rising star, the 25-year old will be a key for the Hurricanes.

Without Hamilton, Slavin took practice shifts with former Devil Sami Vatanen. He was acquired for a bargain to help improve the Canes’ depth. Assuming Hamilton can’t go in the upcoming series, Vatanen will team with Slavin on the top pair. That leaves open slots for ex-Ranger Brady Skjei, Joel Edmundson, Jake Gardiner, Jake Bean and either Haydn Fleury or Trevor van Riemsdyk. Brett Pesce remains uncertain for the Play In phase. He’s a top four D on the Canes who’s probably their most underrated defenseman.

If you take away both Hamilton and Pesce, that negates the Canes’ biggest edge. They still would have a solid group, but losing half of their top four including their top offensive weapon in Hamilton, who acts like an extra forward, would hurt their chances of winning against the Rangers.

The Blueshirts know they can roll out a top six that features KZB line members Chris Kreider, Mika Zibanejad, Pavel Buchnevich along with Hart candidate Artemi Panarin, Ryan Strome and Jesper Fast. They also should feel pretty good about rookie tandem Ryan Lindgren and Adam Fox, who’ve been their most dependable at even strength. Having savvy veteran Marc Staal with Tony DeAngelo behind Brendan Smith and Jacob Trouba provides balance. However, if someone goes down, it gets thin real quick with extra defenseman Libor Hajek.

Look for improvement from rookie Kaapo Kakko, who drew praise from coach David Quinn. He took some shifts when Buchnevich missed practice. He and Filip Chytil could play a pivotal role on the third line with Phil Di Giuseppe.

With Brendan Lemieux serving the first two games of a well deserved suspension for a foolish hit from the blindside on Joonas Donskoi against the Avalanche, the frustrating agitator is his own worst enemy. You have to think he’ll get back in the lineup for Game Three. But that could depend on how the series is going. For now, the fourth line consists of Brett Howden, Greg McKegg and Julien Gauthier. Two former Canes who should be motivated. Skjei has the same incentive versus the Rangers, who decided he was expendable.

Tomorrow, I’ll get into more of the forwards and goalies.

About Derek Felix

Derek Felix is sports blogger whose previous experience included separate stints at ESPN as a stat researcher for NHL and WNBA telecasts. The Staten Island native also interned for or hockey historian Stan Fischler and worked behind the scenes for MSG as a production assistant on New Jersey Devil telecasts. An avid New York sports fan who enjoys covering events, writing, concerts, movies and the outdoors, Derek has covered consecutive Staten Island Yankees NY Penn League championships in '05 and '06. He also scored Berkeley Carroll high school basketball games from '06-14 and provided an outlet for the Park Slope school's student athletes. Hitting Back gives them the publicity they deserve. In his free time, he also attends Ranger games and is a loyal St. John's alum with a sports management degree. The Battle Of Hudson administrator and chief editor can be followed below on Twitter and Facebook.
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