Pavel Buchnevich, the Rangers leading scorer, and Adam Fox, the team’s best defenseman and power play quarterback, were placed on the NHL’s COVID-19 list Monday, joining forward Phillip DiGiuseppe, who had been placed on the list on Sunday.
All three were out of the lineup for Monday’s game against the Flyers at Madison Square Garden, the opener of a two-game series with Philadelphia.
Fox’s unavailability, along with the unavailability of defenseman Jack Johnson, who has been battling a lingering groin injury, prompted the Rangers to call up defenseman Tarmo Reunanen from their Hartford Wolf Pack farm team. Reunanen, 23, was set to make his NHL debut.
In announcing the lineup changes in his pregame Zoom call with the media, Rangers coach David Quinn said the team’s decision to cancel its scheduled morning skate was done after consulting with the NHL, but he said the team and the league were confident that beyond the three players on the list, everyone else on the roster was safe and not at risk in playing the game.
"Yes, that's obviously what the league thinks, and how we feel,’’ Quinn said. "They're in COVID protocol and that's where we're at with those guys right now.’’
Players who are on the COVID-19 list don’t necessarily have the coronavirus. They could be on the list because of close contact with someone who has tested positive, or they may have had a false positive or an inconclusive test for the virus. Earlier in the season, Kaapo Kakko and K’Andre Miller each missed a game because they were on the list, but they were taken off the list after the one game, and were able to return to the lineup. Kakko later went back on the list after he did contract the virus.
Fox, the 23-year-old Jericho native, has been the Rangers’ leader in ice time all season long, averaging 24 minutes and 32 seconds per game. He is the team’s No. 1 defenseman, and plays the first shift on both the power play and the penalty kill, as well as usually matching up – along with his partner Ryan Lindgren – with the opposing team’s top forwards. He is fifth on the team in scoring, and first among defensemen, with two goals and 13 assists (15 points).
Buchnevich was leading the team overall in scoring entering Monday, with 22 points – eight goals and 14 assists. The 25-year-old Russian winger had been the team’s best and most consistent forward from the beginning of training camp on, and, like Fox, he also played on both the power play and the penalty kill. Buchnevich was third among all forwards in ice time entering Monday, with an average of 18:52 per game. Among forwards, only Artemi Panarin (20:29) and Mika Zibanejad (19:49) averaged more ice time per game than Buchnevich.
DiGiuseppe, 27, is one of the team’s fourth-line players, though he has been in and out of the lineup as Quinn has been rotating four or five players through the fourth line.
Reunanen, a fourth-round pick in the 2016 draft, is in his first season in North America, after coming over from his native Finland. He is considered an offensive defenseman, and has played eight games for Hartford, and collected two goals and three assists, for five points.
"Reunanen's a guy that's really done a good job in Hartford,’’ Quinn said. "We liked him in training camp. He's a guy we thought highly of. He plays fast, moves the puck well, and obviously he's exciting to get his first NHL opportunity, and we're excited to have him here.’’
With Buchnevich and DiGiuseppe out, Julien Gauthier and Brett Howden, both healthy scratches last game, returned to the lineup.