Rangers’ Will Cuylle could challenge Alexis Lafreniere for top-six role

When it comes to the right-wing spots in the top-six, the Rangers have either been jamming square pegs in round holes or waiting until the trade deadline to find the perfectly shaped pieces.

The overflow of left wingers in the organization has put the Rangers in a predicament at the start of the past couple of seasons, where their only options are to use a bottom-six veteran as a placeholder or switch a player to his offside and hope for the best.

That alone is cause for top prospect Brennan Othmann to be permanently switched to the right with AHL Hartford in preparation for his eventual call-up either later this season or next, but this is about the varsity roster.

Kaapo Kakko is a true right wing and has shown the most promise among the Rangers’ internal options to slot onto the top line.

Will Cuylle could be an option at right wing for the Rangers to start the season.
Will Cuylle could be an option at right wing for the Rangers to start the season.
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The Finn has done it successfully before and that’s presumably where he will start the 2023-24 campaign.

But the right-wing vacancy on the second line is still a bit of a question mark as opening night on Thursday steadily approaches.

Rookie Will Cuylle, who bulldozed his way onto this Rangers lineup following an impressive training camp, got the most recent look in that role next to Artemi Panarin and Filip Chytil in practice on Sunday.

“It is something I’m considering,” head coach Peter Laviolette said of Cuylle playing on the right. “I’m going to wait and see how things shake out with regard to health, but I think he had a very good camp. With the opportunity of players not being in the lineup, you’re looking at the lineup and you need to fill holes and put things together. So he’s gotten an opportunity on the right and he’s looked good in practice.”

The only player who isn’t 100 percent healthy and would be able to fill that spot is Alexis Lafreniere, who skated in a red non-contact jersey on Sunday after missing Saturday’s practice with an unidentified upper-body injury.

Lafreniere played on the right in all four exhibition games he suited up for, indicating that it is his spot to lose.

Amid an extremely underwhelming camp, however, Lafreniere found himself back on the left side of the third unit where he has spent a majority of his Rangers tenure.

Earlier in camp, Laviolette said not to get too hung up on who is playing on what side in practice because that doesn’t mean that will be the case once the regular season begins.

The Lafreniere-to-the-right experiment — despite the amount of times it has been utilized — has never really lasted too long.

That has certainly played a role in Lafreniere’s inability to adjust, but it’s also up to the former first-overall pick to secure the spot.

“Again, I think that’ll depend on how things shake out here in the next couple of days,” Laviolette said of switching Lafreniere back to the left. “I think on the left or the right, he’ll be fine. I think there’s guys who can play either side. We’re just trying to get reps to the players that show what they can do on different sides of the ice.”

Alexis Lafrenière could face competition from Will Cuylle for a top-six role at left wing.
Alexis Lafrenière could face competition from Will Cuylle for a top-six role at left wing.
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Cuylle has primarily played right wing his entire career.

Tasking a 21-year-old, who has made an NHL roster out of training camp for the first time in his career, with making that kind of switch as he continues to adapt to a new league is risky.

Though it might just be the Rangers’ best option.

It’s still likely that Lafreniere gets the first shot on opening night if he’s healthy.

The spot is still his to lose.

But Cuylle just became another option.

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