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Stempniak a surprising bright spot for Rangers

by Dan Rosen

NEW YORK -- With two goals and four points in four games, forward Lee Stempniak has been one of the bright spots in an otherwise difficult start to the season for the New York Rangers.

Some of what Stempniak has been doing has come as a surprise to coach Alain Vigneault considering the scouting reports he received on Stempniak in the offseason.

"He competes harder when he doesn't have the puck than I thought, to protect it and to get it back, from what I had heard," Vigneault said Thursday. "Obviously we did a little bit of homework before signing him. But [he's a] smart player and he's been very effective for us."

Lee Stempniak
Right Wing - NYR
GOALS: 2 | ASST: 2 | PTS: 4
SOG: 14 | +/-: -1
Vigneault wouldn't go into detail when he was asked for specifics about what he had heard about Stempniak's game, but he did talk about how surprised he has been with Stempniak, who had 341 points in 637 regular season games with five teams before signing a one-year, $900,000 with the Rangers on July 19.

"Everybody talked about his skill set, his shot, his knowledge of the game, [but] there were some concerns maybe that sometimes he wouldn't hang on to [the puck] as long as he could," Vigneault said. "But he has. He's taken checks to make plays. He's done a good job for us so far."

Stempniak said he was attracted to the Rangers because of the style Vigneault has them playing. He got a taste for it during the Stanley Cup Playoffs last season, when he played for the Pittsburgh Penguins.

The Rangers beat the Penguins in seven games in the Eastern Conference Second Round after falling behind 3-1 in the best-of-7 series. Stempniak scored a goal in Game 1 but was shut out for the rest of the series.

"It's a fun way to play," Stempniak said. "We rely on speed, transition offense, skating. Those are things that are important to my game. It seems like it's been a good fit in that sense. Right now I'm just trying to move my feet and shoot pucks when the opportunity is there."

Stempniak has gotten a chance to use his speed to create offense in a top-six forward role playing alongside Derick Brassard and Chris Kreider. He played the first two games of the season on the third line with J.T. Miller and Anthony Duclair.

His four points have come in the past three games, all losses. He leads the Rangers with 14 shots on goal.

"I try to be around the puck and skate and be aggressive, and from there offense generates itself," Stempniak said. "The way we play can create a lot of offense off turnovers in transition. It's a fun way to play and well-suited for me."

Stempniak also has become comfortable off the ice. He said he lives in downtown Manhattan with his wife and their 7-month-old twin girls. Tanner Glass, also new to the Rangers this season, lives two blocks away. Stempniak and Glass played together at Dartmouth College.

"We've got twin girls who are 7-months-old, so if we're ever going to live in the city now is the time to do it," Stempniak said. "We have friends that live in the city too. I have four or five friends in a five block radius. It's fun."


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