Returning Sammy Blais looks to give Rangers boost at wing
It has been just over 10 months since Sammy Blais competed in a hockey game.
The 26-year-old winger is coming off a season-ending ACL tear that he suffered in his 14th game as a Ranger last season. He was memorably tripped up in the corner by since-retired defenseman P.K. Subban. Coincidentally, Blais made his triumphant return to game action in the Rangers’ third preseason contest Thursday night against the Devils, the team the Blueshirts were playing when the injury occurred.
“When I think about what I’ve been through all year and all the hard work that I had to do, just happy it’s all in the past,” Blais told The Post Thursday afternoon before he recorded a blocked shot and four hits in the Rangers’ 5-2 loss to the Devils at the Garden. “I’m not trying to think about it too much. I’m just trying to go out here tonight and just have fun.”
While skating in his first hard practices and team scrimmages this past week, Blais said he spent the first few days of training camp just getting back into the swing of things. His knee feels good, he said, and there has been no additional treatment necessary since he has returned to the ice.
Blais, who came to New York as the feature return in the trade that sent Pavel Buchnevich to St. Louis last offseason, appears primed to pick up right where he left off at the time of his injury. After skating on the top line with Mika Zibanejad and Chris Kreider in his final three games last season, Blais has stepped right back into that right-wing spot during the early days of camp and again in his first exhibition game.
“I think he just adds another element to our line,” Zibanejad said of Blais, who recorded four assists in 14 games. “He can make plays, and he has a physical edge to him as well. I feel like he has that, like a joker card when you play any kind of card game, he can throw at you. He surprised not only us sometimes, but a lot of times, it’s the opponent that we’re playing.
“In terms of that, I think we’re excited for him to get back and excited for me and Chris to play with him.”
In 33:19 of ice time together last season, Kreider, Zibanejad and Blais scored one goal for to two goals against. Zibanejad noted that Blais’ power, skill and hockey IQ stood out to him last season, adding that he proved to have a soft set of hands to go along with his physical presence.
When it comes to his role next to Kreider and Zibanejad, Blais pointed to getting loose pucks and playing big on the forecheck. He also expressed confidence in his ability to play with the puck, saying if there’s a play to be made, he’ll make it.
“It was fun. Mika and Kreids are two unbelievable players,” Blais said of playing on that line last season. “Two superstars in the league. So when I’m out there with them, I’m just trying to bring them some space and play with the puck. I’m just really happy. Playing with them makes my job a lot easier.”
The Rangers are still in an evaluative period when it comes to their lineup. There have been several different combinations on the ice through the first few exhibition games, but the winger rotation in the top six has been the focal point. Zibanejad and Kreider skated with Kaapo Kakko in the Rangers’ preseason-opening win over the Islanders, while Artemi Panarin and Vincent Trocheck have yet to get into an exhibition game.
“He had a lot of energy,” Gallant said of Blais. “He was running around a lot and trying to throw hits, but ran out of position a few times. I liked his energy and it’s been a long time since he’s been able to play against another team like that. Real happy with and happy for him that he got through the game and everything went perfect.”
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