Artemi Panarin will not be in St. Louis for the NHL All-Star Game this weekend. Chris Kreider will be going in his place.
On Tuesday, the day the Rangers put Panarin’s All-Star Game jersey on sale, the 28-year-old winger missed the Blueshirts’ 4-2 loss to the Islanders — the final game before the All-Star break — with an upper-body injury. After the game, the NHL announced that Kreider would take his place as the Rangers’ lone representative on the Metropolitan Division squad.
Center Mika Zibanejad had been the Rangers’ candidate in the Last Men In fan voting contest, which was won by Washington’s T.J. Oshie. Zibanejad, the Rangers’ third-leading scorer with 18 goals and 39 points in 35 games, seemed the most likely choice to replace Panarin once the Rangers and the NHL determined he would miss the All-Star Game. But Zibanejad had made plans to go home to Sweden during the break so Kreider, who plays left wing – the same position Panarin does – ended up being chosen.
Rangers coach David Quinn said he didn’t think Panarin’s injury would be a long-term problem. The Rangers don’t play again until Jan. 31, so Panarin will have time to rest and hope the issue calms down.
For Kreider, who scored his 17th goal Tuesday, it will be his first All-Star appearance, and it could make things interesting if and when the Rangers begin shopping him near the Feb. 24 trade deadline. Kreider, 28, will be an unrestricted free agent this summer, and given his presumed market value – somewhere in the $7 million per year range – it would be difficult for the Rangers to fit him under the salary cap next season. Thus, he seems likely to be traded before the deadline. Whether the fact he is an All-Star affects the Rangers’ asking price remains to be seen.
In the interim, though, Kreider has been a big part of the Rangers’ longshot push for a playoff spot of late. He has three goals in the last five games and five goals and an assist in the last seven. And though the loss to the Islanders was the second in a row for the Rangers and left them 10 points out of a playoff spot with 34 games remaining, Kreider was positive about where the Rangers’ overall game is at the moment.
“Our game is worlds better than it was the beginning of the year,’’ he said Tuesday night. “I think we've gotten so much better. I don't think the score line's indicative of how well we played . . . I thought we did some things pretty well. A few lapses against good teams and they're going to capitalize. So, we’ve got to shore up those things.’’
Notes & quotes: The Rangers announced after the game Tuesday that G Igor Shesterkin and F Phillip DiGiuseppe were returned to AHL Hartford. DiGiuseppe had been called up Jan. 12, but did not appear in any of the four games the team played while he was up. Shesterkin, who played three games (2-1, 2.68 goals-against average, .929 save percentage) originally had been selected to play in the AHL All Star Game, but was replaced after he was called up by the Rangers on Jan. 6.