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Opportunity Calls for Lettieri with Rangers

Newly Signed College Free Agent Talks Joining Blueshirts

by Matt Calamia @MattCalamia / NYRangers.com

How would Rangers Assistant Director of Player Personnel Steve Greeley describe forward Vinni Lettieri?

"I think he's a guy that coaches love," Greeley said. "I know he is."

That's good news for Rangers coaches after Lettieri inked his entry-level contract with the Rangers on Monday after four seasons at the University of Minnesota.

"It's pretty surreal," Lettieri told NYRangers.com. "I've worked so hard my whole life and it's been my dream to sign a pro contract and play in the NHL and the day has finally come when I've signed."

Lettieri, 22, set career-highs with 19 goals and 18 assists for 37 points in 38 games for the Golden Gophers this season, leading to competition among NHL teams to acquire his services. So why New York?

"There's opportunity for me here," he said. "That's the biggest thing. After talking it over with my family, my agent … I feel this would be the best opportunity for me. The way [the Rangers] play fits me too. I made the right choice and I'm really excited."

While the increase in offensive production is a plus, Greeley was quick to praise Lettieri's play away from the puck. He called him a "three-zone player" that impressed scouts on a game-by-game basis.

Greeley said Lettieri is a player that adds depth to the organization and improves in several aspects of the game.

"He's a guy that we think can help the New York Rangers in multiple areas," Greeley said. "He's not a guy that just needs to score goals or just needs to play on the PK. He's a pretty versatile player that we're lucky to have. He was a highly sought after free agent."

Lettieri said his overall game has matured during his time with the Gophers. After starting his college career as more of an offensive-minded player, he's focused on his play away from the puck, especially in the defensive zone.

He said he's done a better job of being able to "switch mindsets" depending on the zone he's playing in. Where he may have used to think about how to transition from defense into offense while in his own end, he now thinks defense first.

With that said, offense is still the Excelsior, Minn.-native's bread and butter, and he made strides in that area of his game as well during his final season at Minnesota. 

He said in the past he was more reluctant to shoot the puck and would rather wait for help from teammates. That changed last year when he opted to shoot more, and it worked out.
"That was one thing that I made sure I did throughout the game, is get a couple shots a period," he said. "In the past, not that I didn't have the capability in the past to do what I did this year, but I always thought pass first or I thought pull up and wait for the D to come and pass to them. This year I had more of a mentality of when I get in the zone, I'm going to try and do it more myself. Put the puck at the net and see what happens."

Lettieri has some familiar faces in the organization, including his former teammate with the Gophers Brady Skjei, whom he reached out to to learn about New York and the organization. 

"He's a great kid," Skjei said of Lettieri. "He works really hard. He's got a ton of skill, a ton of talent to be a successful figure in New York."

The next step for Lettieri is now joining the Hartford Wolf Pack of the American Hockey League, giving that coaching staff the first crack of molding Lettieri into an NHLer.

For Greeley, the addition of Lettieri to the system through free agency is a huge boon for the organization. 

"When you get a player, for your organization it's a huge boost to building your depth chart," he said. "We're not signing guys that we don't think can play for the New York Rangers We're signing guys that we think are going to compete and make an impression at camp and earn a spot with this team in time. 

"Vinni Lettieri is another guy for us that kind of gets the ball rolling on the 2017 free agent class," he added. "We were in it with some top teams, and to come out with him is a good day for the New York Rangers."

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