NASHVILLE – If only Vitali Kravtsov had looked at things the way Morgan Barron did, perhaps that would have been him in the lineup for the Rangers Thursday against the Nashville Predators, and not Barron.
Kravtsov and Barron were the last two cuts when the Rangers set their opening night roster. They were sent down to AHL Hartford the same day (Oct. 11). Kravtsov refused to go and walked away from the team. He was granted permission to seek a trade and went home to Russia, where he waits for the Rangers to move him to another NHL team.
Barron went down to Hartford and scored two goals in two games, and when Kaapo Kakko was put on injured reserve with an upper-body injury Sunday he was called up to the big club. He was in the lineup Thursday as the Rangers played the Predators in the third game of their four-game road trip.
"Things can change quick,’’ Barron said Thursday morning.
Barron certainly was disappointed when he didn’t make the Rangers’ opening night roster. But he went down to Harford and resolved to work hard, get better and try to convince the Rangers to call him up.
"I talked to some of the guys when I got sent down, and I think if you look in that dressing room, and really any dressing room in the NHL, there's a lot of guys who have spent significant time in the minors, even into the ages 25, 26 before they really get an opportunity to solidify themselves in the lineup,’’ said the 22-year-old Barron.
"Of course, it's disappointing. I want to be in the NHL as soon as possible, just like anybody else does,’’ he continued. "But you look at someone like Kevin Rooney who, it took him quite a while in his career, compared to some of these first round picks who are able to jump right in. But he kept going down (to the minors) and just put his head down and would work, and now he's someone who's in the lineup every night and is able to contribute.’’
On Thursday, Barron started out on a fourth line with Ryan Reaves and Greg McKegg, who was called up from Hartford last Friday, after Ryan Strome went into COVID-19 protocol. Barron wasn’t expecting to get much ice time, but at least he would be getting a look from the coaches. And the opportunity existed for him to do something that might make them keep him after Kakko comes off IR on Sunday.
"We're not expecting if Barron goes in tonight that, (we should) look for goal scoring,’’ Rangers coach Gerard Gallant said. "But you know what, every player in your team can chip in, and he can definitely do that. He had a good start down in Hartford, he had a couple goals in two games. So, he can put the puck in the net.’’
A sixth-round pick in the 2017 NHL draft, Barron blossomed at Cornell, where he was a First Team All-American and a finalist for the Hobey Baker Award in his junior season of 2019-20. In his first pro season last year, he led Hartford in goals with 10 in 21 games. And he scored one in five games at the end of the season with the Rangers.
With the Rangers looking for someone, anyone to score while they wait for Kakko and Strome to return to the lineup, Barron – even in a fourth-line role – profiles as someone who might be able to help.
"It's definitely a different game up here,’’ he said. "And it's a little bit harder to score. But as I get my feet wet, I want to continue to be able to produce offensively, regardless of what level I'm at.’’