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Vinni Lettieri getting shot from Rangers to prove he belongs in NHL

The 24-year-old scored his first goal of the season in Monday night's loss to the Penguins.

New York Rangers center Vinni Lettieri skates against

New York Rangers center Vinni Lettieri skates against the Philadelphia Flyers during the first period of a preseason NHL hockey game at Madison Square Garden on Wednesday, Sept. 19, 2018. Photo Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke

Once the Rangers’ brain trust decided it was time to flip the switch to next season, and committed to giving their young players a look, coach David Quinn opted to give Vinni Lettieri a shot. Perhaps the first real shot he’s gotten in his two-year pro career to convince people he’s a legitimate NHL player.

Lettieri, called up from AHL Hartford last week for his fourth stint with the parent club this season, had previously played exclusively on the fourth line in his first 18 games with the team and had produced no points in very limited ice time. But in the three games since his most recent call up, Lettieri has been used on the second line with 19-year-old center Filip Chytil and left wing Vlad Namestnikov.

It finally paid off for Lettieri when he scored his first goal of the season on a power play one-timer from the left circle in the first period of Monday’s 5-2 loss to Pittsburgh. The goal gave the Rangers a 2-0 lead at the time, and it was one of the few bright spots for the young lineup that night.

“Obviously, it feels good to get a goal,’’ Lettieri said after the game. “I knew it was coming eventually. I work too much on it, and get chances during the games where I feel like I’m going to get one, but sometimes it just doesn’t happen.’’

Lettieri, 24, has good hockey bloodlines. The Excelsior, Minnesota, native is the grandson of former Minnesota North Stars coach and general manager Lou Nanne, and his uncle, Marty Nanne, played in the minor leagues. His father, Tino Lettieri, played professional soccer in the old North American Soccer League in the 1970s and '80s. Vinni Lettieri played four years of college hockey at the University of Minnesota, and signed as a college free agent with the Rangers after finishing there in 2017. He scored a goal in his first NHL game in December of that year, but went up and down between the Rangers and Hartford that season, as he has this season.

Because his contract was a two-year deal, Lettieri will be a restricted free agent this summer, so even though he refuses to view this end-of-the-season look he’s getting as an important opportunity as far as his future with the organization is concerned, it really kind of is.

“Everybody’s auditioning for next year – him, obviously, being a younger guy and the situation he’s in, probably a little bit more so,’’ Quinn said of Lettieri. “But I’ve liked his purpose, I’ve liked his intentions. He had a good night on the power play [Monday]. He’s played more of a straight-line game, I thought, and he’s made some progress defensively. Those are the things he’s going to have to work on, and be consistent with in his game night in and night out.’’

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