Call-ups help fill in for Ranger regulars

As the NHL season grinds into the 2012, every team faces some injury issues. Its organizations’ abilities to replenish from within can determine who makes it to the spring with a chance at the Stanley Cup.

The Rangers have been no exception, with depth forwards and their defensive corps being the areas hit the worst. But thanks to a steady stream of replacements, New York has continued its steady march toward the top of the Eastern Conference standings. Forwards Wojtek Wolski, and Mike Rupp and defensemen Marc Staal, Steve Eminger, Michael Sauer, and Jeff Woywitka are all Ranger regulars who have either already missed time this season or are currently out of action.

Enter forwards Carl Hagelin and John Mitchell, plus defensemen Tim Erixon, Anton Stralman and Stu Bickel who, as fill-ins, could force themselves into the Rangers’ long-term plans through the spring.

Hagelin has been the biggest revelation of all the Ranger reinforcements so far, with the extremely fast skating 23-year-old Swede playing in 15 NHL games and registering seven points (four goals, three assists) since making his big league debut in a 6-3 win in Washington the day after Thanksgiving. He has benefited from frequently skating on a line with Mitchell, who was often on the same line when they were with the AHL’s Connecticut Whale.

"Hags is so fast straightaway, his first couple of strides are probably the quickest I’ve seen," Mitchell told the New York Post. "So that if he sees we have control of the puck, he should just go."

Hagelin is playing in his first full professional season after four years at the University of Michigan and his ice time has increased to over 14 minutes in each of the Rangers’ past four games, as he has been given the chance to play on the a line with Brad Richards and Ryan Callahan. Even if Hagelin does not put up big offensive numbers, his speed will make him a valuable penalty killer for the Rangers down the stretch.

Meanwhile, defense has been the hardest-hit area for the Rangers.

In Thursday night’s 4-2 win over the Islanders, the Rangers dressed three blueliners, who have either spent significant time in the minor leagues or were not on the team’s opening night roster: Stralman, Erixon and Bickel. The young defensemen will all have a chance to earn a regular shift, as Woywitka is the only regular expected back soon.

Stralman and Erixon, both Swedes, are offensive defenseman while Bickel, who made his NHL debut at 25 years old against New Jersey on Tuesday, plays the tough-guy role, racking up 149 penalty minutes in 60 regular-season AHL games last year.

By taking advantage of these opportunities over the next few weeks, players like Hagelin, Mitchell, Erixon, Bickel and Stralman could give themselves a chance to be a part of the Rangers when the weather gets warm.

Atlantic Division notes:

Flyers forward Claude Giroux (concussion) returned to the Flyers on Wednesday, December 21. He added a goal and three assists in the team’s 4-1 win at Dallas … The NHL’s concussion epidemic has reached Long Island as well, with Islanders’ goaltender Al Montoya out indefinitely after suffering a head injury on Tuesday in a collision with Winnipeg Jet forward Evander Kane, during New York’s 3-2 shootout win in Winnipeg … Evgeni Nabokov is expected to get the bulk of the starts in goal, with Montoya and Rick DiPietro on the shelf … Penguins defenseman Deryk Engelland was suspended three games for his hit on Chicago’s Marcus Kruger on Tuesday that left the Blackhawk concussed. NHL senior VP of player safety and hockey operations Brendan Shanahan cited Engelland leaving his feet for the hit and targeting Kruger’s head as reasons for the suspension … Devils rookie defenseman Adam Larsson has left the team to attend his grandmother’s funeral in Sweden. He will be out through the team’s game in Carolina on Monday, Dec. 26 … Larsson also told the Newark Star-Ledger’s Rich Chere that the NHL "should take away all hits to the head," after absorbing a head shot from forward Erik Cole last Saturday in Montreal.