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Kevin Rooney and Colin Blackwell's success gives Rangers glut of forwards

Kevin Rooney of the Rangers follows the puck

Kevin Rooney of the Rangers follows the puck against the Washington Capitals in the first period at Capital One Arena on March 28, 2021. Credit: Getty Images/Rob Carr

David Quinn couldn’t put a date on when Vitali Kravtsov is going to enter the Rangers' lineup, but it’s going to be soon. And Brett Howden, who has missed the past four games after going on the team’s COVID-19 list last week, is likely going to be getting off the list sometime this week, as well, which will make for a crowded roster among forwards.

"Yeah, it was a logjam,’’ Quinn said Sunday, when asked about the reasons behind the team trading rugged Brendan Lemieux to the L.A. Kings on Saturday night.

The emergence of free-agent pickups Kevin Rooney and Colin Blackwell, as much as anything, is what actually has created the overcrowding among the team’s bottom two forward lines. The Rangers signed Rooney from the Devils, hoping he would help them improve their penalty kill, and signed Blackwell from Nashville to be a veteran depth forward.

Rooney, 27, has established himself as the fourth-line center and a key part of a penalty killing unit that has been one of the top groups in the league most of the season. The Rangers rank fifth in the league with an 85.2% success rate as of Monday. Blackwell, who started the season on the taxi squad, scored his seventh and eighth goals of the season in Sunday’s 5-4 loss to the Washington Capitals, on his 28th birthday. The Rangers host the Capitals on Tuesday at Madison Square Garden.

In addition to the two goals he scored, the 5-9, 190-pound Blackwell also earned good teammate points Sunday when he jumped Washington forward T.J. Oshie after Oshie dropped Rooney late in the first period with a late, high hit that Blackwell thought was over the line.

"I took exception to, kind of, the hit on Roons,’’ Blackwell explained. "I know Roons would do it for me in a heartbeat. So, it's just kind of one of those things, sticking up for one another.’’

Lemieux always was willing to be the guy to step in and protect his teammates whenever an opponent tried to take liberties. But with him gone now, the Rangers will need to collectively have each other’s backs when the going gets rough. And Blackwell, who had concussion problems when he played college hockey at Harvard, didn’t shy away when a situation came up.

"I've been playing for my job ever since day one, so that's kind of how I approach every single day,’’ Blackwell said. "We’ve got a lot of good players here and everybody's been able to kind of slide up and down the lineup, and it's kind of that ‘next man up’ mentality. So [I’ve got to] continue to do the right things to try to gain everybody's trust and hopefully continue to stay in the lineup.’’

Fox a star

D Adam Fox and Deena Trupkin, a registered nurse at Northwell Health-Long Island Jewish Medical Center and a lifelong Rangers fan, have been named the NHL’s First Stars of the Week for the week ending March 28. Fox had a goal and 10 assists (11 points) in four games, including a five-assist night in last Monday’s 5-3 win over Buffalo. He became the first Rangers player to have five assists in a game since Wayne Gretzky did it in February of 1999… The Rangers signed D Hunter Skinner, their fourth-round pick in 2019, to an entry level contract. Skinner will join AHL Hartford.

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