Pavel Buchnevich could have been the least likely Ranger to spark the team physically, especially with a fight.
But that's exactly what happened 4:50 into the third period when Buchnevich fought Kris Versteeg after Versteeg slashed the 21-year-old Russian. And while it may not have been a highlight reel tilt, Buchnevich's impact was felt by his teammates.
"It was impressive to see him step up like that," said Henrik Lundqvist after Monday's practice. "I think he's a great guy and guys really appreciate what he does here. He works hard, has a great attitude. Stuff like that just adds to it. I was impressed."
While Buchnevich is clearly not known for his physical prowess, it's important for players to stand up for themselves, especially a first-year player like Buchnevich.
"I think any time someone fights, obviously it takes a lot of courage," Jimmy Vesey said. "I don't think anyone expected him to be the guy to fight maybe at all this year. I think it fired guys up because it's good to see he has that fire in him. I was happy for him that he stuck up for himself because he got a pretty big slash."
Buchnevich's progress has been fascinating to watch. When he arrived in New York at prospect camp last summer, his English was nearly non-existent. He lived with an American family in the offseason to prepare for his first campaign in New York and has committed to learning the language, which has made him one of the more popular and likable players on the Rangers.
"He's definitely one of the lighter guys," said Vesey, who first played with Buchnevich in September's Traverse City Prospect Tournament. "He's always in on a lot of jokes. Maybe that's because some of his English isn't perfect. I think he's a really good kid. Everyone likes him. For someone that's come to a foreign country and doesn't speak the language, I think he's done great."
Head coach Alain Vigneault praised the rookie for showing heart in the fight against Versteeg, who was ejected for not tying his jersey to his pants.
"You've got to stand up for yourself and be accounted for and I think that's what Pavel was doing there," Vigneault said, "and that means there's a lot of heart there and there's something to work with."
Vigneault said if all goes to plan, forward Kevin Hayes would be back in the lineup Tuesday against the Anaheim Ducks at Madison Square Garden. Hayes has been out for the last five games with a lower-body injury.
"It sucks not being able to battle with the guys," Hayes said Monday. "You just watch from the stands. You can take it as a positive. It's a nice little break, but hopefully I'm in game shape. It's a lot easier in practice. It's not too bad. When you play games, that's when you find out. Tomorrow night will be fun. I'm a little anxious but it'll be fine."
If Hayes can play, Matt Puempel is expected to be a healthy scratch along with Brandon Pirri, as the two practiced as defensemen Monday.
Defenseman Marc Staal missed practice on Monday with the flu, and Vigneault was unsure if the blueliner - who just returned from an upper-body injury - will be available against Anaheim.
"We'll see how he feels tomorrow and go from there," Vigneault said.
If Staal cannot play, Adam Clendening would get the start.
Here were Monday's practice lines:
Jimmy Vesey - Derek Stepan - Rick Nash
Chris Kreider - Mika Zibanejad - Mats Zuccarello
J.T. Miller - Kevin Hayes - Michael Grabner
Pavel Buchnevich - Oscar Lindberg - Jesper Fast
Ryan McDonagh - Dan Girardi
Nick Holden - Adam Clendening
Brady Skjei - Kevin Klein