The Rangers gave Will Cuylle his first taste of the NHL this past week, recalling the big-bodied wing from AHL Hartford for a two-game stint before the All-Star break.
Cuylle had been tearing it up for the Wolf Pack, with five goals in eight games leading up to the call-up, which seemingly gave the Rangers the perfect excuse to give him a look in the fourth-line role they imagine him fitting into in the future. Plus, the stars aligned and his NHL debut came in Cuylle’s home city of Toronto.
“It’s kind of in the back of your head, but you don’t want to think too much about it when you have your team and you’re trying to win games in Hartford,” Cuylle said before he took his rookie lap at Scotiabank Arena on Wednesday in front of his friends and family. “But, obviously, it’s my dream to play in the NHL. That’s what I want to do. So it was in the back of my mind a little bit.”
The two games were an extremely small sample size for Cuylle, who only logged a total of 12:20 ice time in 20 shifts. He skated on the fourth line with Jake Leschyshyn and Julien Gauthier.
Cuylle has been a bright spot for the Rangers since his debut.Elsa/Getty Images
In recent games, head coach Gerard Gallant has been riding his top nine more than usual. It resulted in a gentle introductory to the NHL for the Cuylle, but the 6-foot-3, 211-pounder still showed off some bruising contributions.
Cuylle, skating in his second NHL game, engaged in his first NHL fight when he dropped the gloves with Vegas tough guy Keegan Kolesar off the second-period faceoff in the Rangers’ 4-1 win over the Golden Knights on Friday night at the Garden.
“He fought a tough guy, but he did pretty well,” Gallant said after the victory. “Good for him. Will came up and played two games. It’s pretty exciting for a young, 20-year-old to come up and do that. Then to get challenged like that and fight — and Kolesar is a tough kid, I had him in Vegas — so, he did a great job. It was probably an even fight, and good for him. [Cuylle] showed up.”
The Rangers had to send Cuylle back to Hartford for cap space-accruing purposes, but the No. 60 overall pick of the 2020 NHL Draft is set to compete in the AHL All-Star Game on Feb. 6. There shouldn’t be any rush to bring Cuylle in full-time, especially when the organization still needs to figure out what to do with Vitali Kravtsov, who found himself on the outs of the lineup amid Cuylle’s recall.
The Rangers will return to practice on Feb. 5 before they resume their game schedule the following night at home against the Flames.