The Rangers set out this off-season to get younger, faster and more skilled up front, and in filling those needs they also greatly improved the organizational depth at the forward position.
Now as the summer winds down and training camp looms on the near horizon, the Rangers have added another intriguing piece to the forward competition: 25 year-old Brandon Pirri, a self-described "shoot-first" player who scored 22 goals in only 49 games two seasons ago with the Florida Panthers.
"As a competitor you want that good competition every day, not only because it pushes you to be better, but then the whole team has to be better because if you're not going then you're not going to be playing," Pirri told BlueshirtsUnited.com about his battle for playing time this upcoming season. "It's exciting. I'm doing everything I can so I hit the ground running when I get to New York (in the next week or two)."
Just days after the Rangers agreed to terms with highly sought-after Hobey Baker Award-winning forward Jimmy Vesey, the club brought Pirri, an unrestricted free agent who played with the Panthers and Anaheim Ducks a year ago, into the fold.
The additions of Pirri and Vesey, along with the acquisition of Mika Zibanejad in a trade with Ottawa, the signing of top prospect Pavel Buchnevich, and the re-signing of restricted free agents Chris Kreider, J.T. Miller, Kevin Hayes, Nicklas Jensen and Marek Hrivik have created a deep talent pool of forwards under the age of 25. Recently-signed center Josh Jooris also just turned 26 in the month of July; plus the Rangers signed a pair of speedy veterans in Michael Grabner and Nathan Gerbe to deepen the talent pool up front.
"Just looking up and down the roster, there's a lot of young talent mixed with guys that have proven themselves, and for a guy like me it's really exciting to be a part of that, playing on the biggest stage in the world and competing to be in the lineup on a team that has every intention of winning every game on every night," stated Pirri, who combined for 14 goals and a career-high 29 points in 61 games last season.
Pirri's strength is as an offensive player, one who excels on the power play and who is also terrific in shootout situations. Thirteen of his 49 career goals have been scored on the power play, including seven of 22 during his breakout season in 2014-15. That year he returned from a concussion to score 19 goals in 26 games, a torrid pace which ran from January 19-April 2.
"When I did get that opportunity to get back in the lineup things were going really good and it seemed like everything was working out, and I think at the same time it was because I put in that effort while I was injured," Pirri recalled of his run with the Panthers two seasons ago. "It was fun. That's the player I know I can be. It's just a matter of staying healthy and when I do get that opportunity to make the most of it."
Last season Pirri scored on five of his six shootout opportunities, an 83.3 percent success rate which showcased another area where he can help the Rangers this season. Over the course of his career Pirri is 10-for-17 in the shootout with five game-deciding tallies.
Pirri's accuracy is not limited to the shootout. He owns a shooting percentage of 14 percent over the past three years, tied for 24th among all NHL players during that span. With Chicago in 2013-14 he scored on 17.6 percent of his shots, netting six goals in 28 games for the Blackhawks. During his 22-goal campaign in Florida his shooting percentage was an impressive 15.4 percent.
"Something I'm trying to focus on this year is just being consistent," Pirri answered when asked about his overall game. "You can't always control your points and goals, but bringing energy every shift is important. I'm a shoot-first player, but it's important to be defensively reliable so that the coach can trust me. That helps minutes and the more minutes gives you more chances with the puck. When you're getting more touches, everything is just smoother and the offensive game flows from there."
Having played against Alain Vigneault's team for several seasons, Pirri is excited about the prospect of playing in the coach's uptempo system in New York with the Rangers this year.
"Playing against them, as soon as they get the puck in the D zone it seems like you have three guys flying back the other way into your zone in an odd-man rush," explained Pirri. "For an offensive guy that's something really exciting to be a part of. I like to think when I get opportunities in the offensive zone I make the most of them, so this seems like a perfect fit and I'm just looking forward to making the most of this opportunity in New York."