Inside the Matt Rempe Dilemma

Rangers legends, fans, and analysts insist that Matt Rempe should be in the lineup going forward. It's a topic that's sparked heated debate, with valid points on both sides.
Washington Capitals v New York Rangers - Game One
Washington Capitals v New York Rangers - Game One / Bruce Bennett/GettyImages

Blueshirts nation went into panic mode after the New York Rangers' 3-0 Game 1 loss to the Florida Panthers. Yes, it's one game and a shutout loss that was a 1-0 game for most of it, but don't tell them that. It's reached the point where even the national media has willed this potential lineup change into existence. Sure, it's the first time this postseason that the Rangers find themselves trailing in a series, but that doesn't call for drastic changes. Yet Rangers legends, fans, and analysts insist that Matt Rempe should be in the lineup going forward. It's a topic that's sparked heated debate, with valid points on both sides.

On the one hand, Rempe could inject some much-needed energy into the Rangers' lineup. Conversely, Rempe will play significantly fewer minutes than whoever he replaces. The Blueshirts have infinite depth and face a team notorious for their physicality, even if the series opener didn't reflect it despite Matthew Tkachuk laying out Vincent Trocheck and Brandon Montour drilling Filip Chytil. They are also playing in front of a solely reactive Garden crowd that'll only cheer for intros, a goal, or for Rempe. It's a tough call, but no matter the decision, it will be right.

For Rempe: 

Contrary to what some might say, Rempe is a real asset on the ice. He's still polishing his game, but his potential is undeniable. He has skill, moves surprisingly well for a big guy, knows how to find the back of the net, and his offensive instincts are solid. We saw a glimpse of all that in Game 1 against the Washington Capitals when he scored the team's first goal of the playoffs. It wasn't just luck – he led the charge, made a slick move to get to the net, and positioned himself perfectly for the finish. That's not something you'd expect from your typical enforcer.

But Rempe brings more than just scoring prowess. He adds a physical edge that was noticeably absent in Game 1. He's one of the Rangers' best forecheckers. Even though the Rangers were in the game, they were missing that extra spark to kick things up. Even with limited ice time, Rempe has proven he can provide that spark when needed.

Of course, it's crucial that Rempe is allowed to play his game and isn't pressured into taking an unnecessary penalty. If he's given the chance to shine, he could make a significant impact not only for the Rangers but also in the minds of the Panthers. Florida is no stranger to penalties, as they were amongst the NHL's most undisciplined this regular season. Rempe's presence might rattle them and give the Rangers an extra edge, especially on the powerplay. It's worth a shot.

Against Rempe: 

The concern with putting Rempe in the lineup is that some people see him as just a one-dimensional enforcer. Yet that's not what the 21-year-old brings to the table on the ice. The Rangers don't need enforcers. The game has evolved, and it's all about speed and skill nowadays. So if the only reason to play Rempe is because he's a 6'8 giant, we need to rethink things. It's the Eastern Conference Finals, so you shouldn't need his energy to get going. He can be helpful but won't decide whether the Blueshirts even up the series. That'll ultimately be decided by the top six. 

Rempe won't fix the breakout issues the Rangers had with their defensemen struggling to move the puck in Game 1. Those unforced errors in their zone were a big part of why they couldn't sustain offense, even if they got many high-danger looks.

The opening act wasn't about the Rangers getting bullied by Florida. It was more about mistakes and misreads leading to goals. There's also the issue of the refs targeting Rempe from the start. Even clean hits are getting called as penalties, which is frustrating for everyone involved. There's also the question of who draws out of the lineup. 

It won't be Filip Chytil because you need his speed and skill, even if it was odd he was omitted when coach Peter Laviolette shortened the bench in the third period of Wednesday's game. It won't be Jack Roslevic because although he doesn't have the NHL-level IQ away from the puck to be a top-line player, his speed and shiftiness are too valuable to leave out. He should be demoted to a bottom-six role now that Chytil is back, but that's not my call.

It won't be Alex Wennberg, who's been great centering the defense's defensive-minded line and creating rush chances in Game 1. This leaves Jimmy Vesey and Kaapo Kakko as the Rempe sacrifice.

I wrote earlier that it would likely be Vesey because he's on the fourth line, and you're not taking out the veteran presence of Barclay Goodrow or the snarl of Will Cuylle. The case for Vesey to remain in is that he's been part of the Rangers penalty kill, which has mitigated 51 of the team's last 55 infractions. However, he just had his worst game of the season was a turnover machine, and Kakko could take his spot if needed. Yet, the big picture sees Vesey as reliable in both ends on the bottom six, so he's fine once you eliminate recency bias.

As for Kakko, he's one of the best puck protectors on the team and is excellent at maintaining possession, even there's no produce points-wise. Still,that goes a long way because it wears down the opposition. 

Unfortunately, these are the Panthers who never seem to wilt in close games, so it wouldn't matter. Kakko's specialty is using the wall, which is also the game Florida loves to play. The Cats' forecheck, and their defenseman pinching in along the boards contributed to their abundance of offensive zone time in their victory. Lastly, Kakko isn't a player who is productive off the rush because the 22-year-old still needs to have the foot speed to match the other speeders he goes up against, especially in this series. So, should the Blueshirts sit the skillful Kakko but have the tenacity of Rempe, they should cancel out, and it'll be fine. 

The Verdict:

If I were allowed to make the Game 2 Rangers forward lineup, here's what I'd do.


Panarin- Trocheck-Lafrenière



Rempe may only get a few minutes of ice time, but Madison Square Garden values his physicality, presence, and energy. They don't call this Rempemania for nothing. Let the kid play.