Late in their 4-3 overtime win over the Devils Monday at Madison Square Garden, the Rangers were down two forwards. Matt Beleskey left the game after the first period with a shoulder injury, and Jesper Fast left after the second with an undisclosed injury. That meant jumbled lines and lots of ice time for the remaining 10 forwards on the bench.
Vinni Lettieri found himself skating every other shift, it seemed, playing multiple positions with all kinds of different linemates. And he was tired.
“I was cramping up,’’ he said.
But when coach David Quinn threw Lettieri on the ice near the end of the overtime, Lettieri was in the right place at the right time to deflect Kevin Hayes’ pass behind Devils goalie Eddie Lack. It was the Rangers’ second win of the preseason – both by 4-3 in overtime against the Devils -- and for Lettieri, scoring the winner was a great way to get the attention of the coaches as the preseason winds to a close.
And it wasn’t just the goal that Lettieri, 23, contributed. The 5-11, 191-pound center was an energetic force all game, flitting around in the corners and the front of the net, getting in the face of the Devils’ 6-7, 244-pound Brian Boyle in one scrum, taking a glove in the face from Lack in another. For a team that is looking for a little bit more attitude, Lettieri showed he certainly has some.
“I have to be pretty fierce in the [offensive] zone and [defensive] zone,’’ he said. “It doesn’t matter if I’m going against Boyle out there, even if he’s towering over me. I just have to get in there in the dirty areas.’’
There are probably about 11 forwards who have sewn up a spot on the opening night roster, which would leave two or three spots to be determined. Lettieri is an undrafted free agent who signed with the Rangers out of the University of Minnesota in 2017 and played at Hartford for most of last season. He probably is battling with European free agents Ville Meskanen and Michael Lindqvist, physical forwards Beleskey and Cody McLeod, and Peter Holland and 20-year-old prospect Brett Howden to win one of those spots. Besides Beleskey and McLeod, who both fought Devils defenseman Eric Gryba on Monday, none has made the kind of impression Lettieri did in that game.
“Over this preseason, I’ve just been focused on getting better in [both zones], just so I can help my linemates out,’’ Lettieri said. “I think that’s just what the [coaching staff] is harping on.’’