Kevin Klein missed one game in mid-January with an injury to his right thumb, but had been able to play in all five games since. However he will be missing much more time moving forward after reinjuring the same thumb in Tuesday's 3-2 loss to the Devils in New Jersey.
The team announced on Wednesday that Klein had fractured his thumb late in the third period against the Devils and will be out indefinitely. He was checked by New Jersey's Reid Boucher and fell awkwardly into the boards, the brunt off the fall taken by his already-compromised thumb.
"I can't say enough good things about Kleiner and what he means to our team and how steady and solid he's been," said team captain Ryan McDonagh following practice. "Injuries are a part of this game and we've got the guys to step up and play his minutes. We just have to make sure that everyone steps up and plays as well as they can."
Klein, who earlier this season missed 11 games with an oblique strain, has appeared in 38 games with the Rangers this season and leads the club with a +14 plus/minus rating. He also has scored three goals, added seven assists and totaled ten points while deftly moving up and down the defense pairings--sometimes slotted with McDonagh on the top pair and at others skating alongside either Marc Staal or Keith Yandle.
His spot in the lineup will be taken by rookie Dylan McIlrath who has impressed throughout this season when asked to fill when injuries have shelved both Klein and Dan Girardi. In 20 games played McIlrath is a +5 and he leads the team with 42 penalty minutes. He has also scored two goals and totaled three points, most recently netting a goal in his most recent game action nine days ago against the Buffalo Sabres.
"When we've asked Dylan to come in and play some minutes he's been able to come in and play well," explained Vigneault. "So he's going to get a chance again, and hopefully do a good job for us."
The 23 year-old former first round pick replied confidently that "I know I can do it" Wednesday when asked if he's capable of filling in for any extended stretch of time while Klein is out.
"Dylan has been playing great every time he's stepped in," McDonagh said of McIlrath. "It's a tough role being in and out of the lineup, but every time he's jumped in there he's played really well. We know about his toughness and physicality, but it's great to see him gaining confidence with the puck and being poised and using his big shot, too."
At least for now the team will not call up an extra defenseman from the minor leagues, according to Vigneault. Both rookie Brady Skjei and veteran Chris Summers had brief call ups earlier this season.
Rick Nash skated on his own before practice on Wednesday. He had hoped to take part in practice, but was not quite ready to do so, according to Vigneault. Nash had been off ice for eleven days with a deep bone bruise in his left leg before he skated at the end of Tuesday's morning skate at the Prudential Center. He will miss his fourth consecutive game because of the injury when the Rangers face off with the Minnesota Wild on Thursday night at The Garden.
"He's improving every day, but he's just not there yet," Vigneault said of Nash. "I think he was hoping it was going to be a little bit better than it was today, but it did not stop him from skating on his own."