Ryan Callahan won't be the only veteran forward inserted into the lineup Monday night when the Rangers face off with the Los Angeles Kings at the Staples Center. Sunday after practice head coach Alain Vigneault revealed that Arron Asham, who was a healthy scratch in the season opener Thursday in Phoenix, will also make his season debut on Monday.
"We're going to play against LA and against San Jose, two big teams, so I knew I was going to put Arron in the lineup sooner than later," explained Vigneault.
By having Callahan and Asham play Monday, the Rangers add another 1,188 games of NHL experience to their lineup. Asham has appeared in 783 games in his career, including 27 in an injury-plagued first year with the Blueshirts. Callahan, a lifelong Ranger, has played in 405 NHL games. The veteran pair will replace youngsters J.T. Miller and Jesper Fast--a combined 28 games of NHL experience---in the Rangers lineup.
Miller was assigned to the Hartford Wolf Pack on Saturday when it became clear that Callahan's shoulder was healthy enough to allow him to play against the Kings. The 20 year-old 2011 first round draft pick, who logged nearly 12 minutes Thursday against the Coyotes, scored twice in the Wolf Pack's 4-3 win over Albany on Sunday afternoon.
"We just felt that with (Miller) being such a young player he needed to play, and having two extra forwards did not make a lot of sense (financially against the salary cap)," explained Vigneault on Sunday. "We just felt we needed to send him to Hartford to get some games in. At the start (of the season) veteran guys will get a longer look, a longer opportunity. I wanted the kid to play, and (salary) cap-wise it was the right thing to do, also."
Fast, the 21 year-old rookie, played 10:13 and recorded one shot on goal in his NHL debut in Phoenix. He had split time with Asham on the fourth line during Friday's practice, but on Sunday he gave way to the 15-year veteran, who took most of the reps alongside Dominic Moore and Derek Dorsett.
"I want to show that there's still some life in these old legs," Asham told BlueshirtsUnited.com on Sunday. "And I think me, Dom, and Dors want to show the coaches that we can be effective and play a physical game, so that they keep running us out there."
Asham has accumulated 990 career penalty minutes, including 50 last season. He has 94 goals and 208 NHL points, as well. Last year with New York he scored a pair of regular season goals before netting another pair in the playoffs, including the game-winner in Game Seven of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals against the Washington Capitals.
Despite his gritty and clutch resume, Asham arrived in camp this September far from guaranteed a spot on the Rangers roster. At age 35, the Blueshirts' oldest skater went out and fashioned a very strong pre-season to earn his way on to the opening night roster. Now on Monday Asham gets the chance to show he not only belongs on the roster, but in the Rangers lineup.
"I'm fighting for my life," Asham said. "I understand that at my age I have to fight every day to stay in the league. I am ready to do that."
To which Vigneault added, "Arron and I had that discussion before the season started, that he's at the point of his career where he wants to stay in the NHL as long as he can. He's one of our oldest players, and he's fighting to stay in the NHL. So now he's getting the opportunity to play (Monday) and hopefully he'll be able to come in and play well for us."
As for Callahan, who will skate on the third line with Brian Boyle and Taylor Pyatt, as well as see power play and penalty killing time, the captain is raring to go after being limited throughout training camp and held out of pre-season games following off-season shoulder surgery.
"I'm excited, it's been a long summer trying to rehab from this and then not being able to really participate that much in training camp," explained Callahan, the three-time 20-goal scorer. "I've been champing at the bit here to get back on the ice, so I am excited about (Monday)."