Jack Roslovic’s dropoff means Rangers’ shuffling still unfinished

Given the opportunity by a generous journalist to frame Sunday’s healthy scratch for Jack Roslovic 15 games into his Rangers career as, “Just a rotation thing?” head coach Peter Laviolette seized the moment by affirming it as, “just a rotation thing.”

Which represents a funny way to say, “benched.”

It is not Laviolette’s way to call out players in public. There may not have been a single time this first season behind the New York bench when the coach has pointed a finger — or directed a pointed message — at one of his players.

He sure wasn’t about to start with Roslovic, who has gone from a stabilizing influence on the right with Chris Kreider and Mika Zibanejad to a perceived liability. There was a reason that No. 96 only got 2:10 of ice time in the first and third periods in Detroit on Friday and a team-low 8:07 overall — and 4:39 less than the next man in line, Will Cuylle — in the 4-3 victory over the Red Wings.

Laviolette has talked about how having 13 healthy forwards has tasked him with making a personnel call every game. The coach has said that matchups might be a part of the equation in attempting to define the club’s most formidable lineup entering the first game of the first round of the playoffs.

Jack Roslovic was a healthy scratch for the Rangers’ game Sunday against the Canadiens. Corey Sipkin for the NY Post
Peter Laviolette’s forward shuffling continued for the Rangers’ game Sunday against the Canadiens. Getty Images

But that was generally inferred as, ultimately, the decision distilled to whether to dress Matt Rempe or to go with Jonny Brodzinski as the 12th forward. Only the most literal-minded deduced Laviolette truly thought that 22-year-old Will Cuylle needed a rest a month before the playoffs when he came out of the lineup as a healthy scratch against the Panthers on March 23.

The hierarchy was under no illusion that they, by obtaining Roslovic from the Jackets at the March 8 deadline in exchange for a 2026 third- or fourth-rounder, were completing GAG Line Redux. I don’t think anyone ever thought that Roslovic would become Rod Gilbert to Chris Kreider’s and Mika Zibanejad’s Vic Hadfield and Jean Ratelle.

There was, however, the sense that the temp position on the right of the BFFs that had been filled at different times earlier in the year by Kaapo Kakko, Blake Wheeler, Brodzinski, Cuylle and Jimmy Vesey had been filled and that was an area with which Laviolette and the staff would no longer have to concern themselves.

And Roslovic initially did bring speed and hockey IQ as a complementary addition to the unit. His effectiveness had diminished over the last week or so, however. He was not strong enough on the puck or responsible enough, with or without it, on the defensive side. The unit was listing again, even if not Roslovic’s fault. By Friday, Kakko, Barclay Goodrow and Jimmy Vesey were taking turns in his place after a particularly delinquent defensive-zone shift cost a goal in Detroit.

And on Sunday, it was Vesey lining up in that spot when the Rangers sought their eighth win in their last nine games when the also-ran Canadiens came to town. You will recall, of course, that it is hardly the first time the versatile Harvard product has stepped into that top-six role.

Indeed, Vesey was Laviolette’s first choice to assume that position after Wheeler went down with his season-ending lower-body injury on Feb. 15, the last time the Canadiens were in town for the contest ahead of the outdoor game against the Islanders at MetLife.

Jimmy Vesey, pictured earlier this season, returned to the Rangers’ first line again Sunday. Charles Wenzelberg

A couple of waves of media folks approached Vesey at his locker after the outdoor practice two days ahead of the match. He was asked about his chemistry with Zibanejad and Kreider, with whom he’d played 17 times the previous season for then head coach Gerard Gallant. Vesey, accustomed to being shifted up and down in the lineup, answered all questions politely.

And knowingly.

For when No. 26 was done with his time in the spotlight, he looked up and said to no one in particular: “You can check with me again in about two weeks.”

By that time, as Vesey foresaw, he was back in the bottom-six after five games at the top. Well, five partial games. Because as often as not when skating up top, Vesey was shifted into late-game checking roles while Laviolette regularly moved Artemi Panarin up to double shift with Zibanejad and Kreider.

The Rangers and Laviolette are in the fine-tune stage of the season, less than two weeks from the playoffs with only a handful of games remaining. There is the Matt Rempe decision. There is the call between Zac Jones (in for this one against Montreal) and Erik Gustafsson as the sixth defenseman. There is completing the Zibanejad line.

“You can check with me again in about nine hours,” Vesey said after Sunday’s morning skate.

He was smiling when he said that.

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