Hartnett: Despite New Contract, Lettieri No Lock To Crack Rangers' Opening Night Roster

Sean Hartnett
July 25, 2019 - 10:21 am

The Rangers continued to lock down their restricted free agents to new contracts by agreeing to a one-year deal with forward Vinni Lettieri Wednesday.

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Fellow RFAs Pavel Buchnevich, Brendan Lemieux and Tony DeAngelo remain unsigned. Once signed, each one of the trio will have well-defined roles on the 2019-20 roster. The same cannot be said about Lettieri.

The shoot-first 24-year-old has struggled to make his mark through 46 games across two NHL seasons, managing just eight points (two goals, six assists). At the moment, he’s caught between being too good for the AHL and being a fringe player at the NHL level. His point-per-game production in Hartford has yet to translate to the faster-skating, quicker-thinking NHL.

Watch Lettieri closely and it’s clear that he possesses an all-out style of play and a powerful shot. On eye test alone, his natural talent and energetic approach should be enough to fill a bottom-six role. Yet, he’s struggled to stake his claim as a NHL regular.

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Lettieri’s path toward consistent playing time will be more difficult to attain after the Rangers signed Greg McKegg earlier in the offseason. Let’s say Brett Howden is a certainty to make the opening night roster. There’s still Lias Andersson, Boo Nieves, Matt Beleskey, Tim Gettinger, Steven Fogarty and McKegg whom Lettieri must outdo to win a final roster spot.

It’s going to take an impressive preseason for Lettieri to avoid starting the new campaign in Hartford. That applies to a scenario where the Rangers prioritize experience or another where Chris Kreider, Vladislav Namestnikov and Ryan Strome are traded to clear cap space and Beleskey is assigned to Hartford to save extra dough.

Although Lettieri has the potential to become useful on the power play, the Rangers have plenty of established forwards ahead of him in the special teams pecking order. One of Lettieri’s strengths in the AHL is his power play production. He finished last season with eight power-play goals and 11 power-play assists.

That said, he’s going to need to become a better even-strength forward and add value beyond being somewhat of a specialist. Lettieri must sharpen his best tools while proving he’s a more complete forward to separate himself from the pack.

Making the NHL on a full-time basis isn’t easy and we’ll soon find out if Lettieri has what it takes.

 Follow Sean on Twitter at @HartnettHockey