Rangers head coach David Quinn noted he’d be lying if he said at the beginning of this season that he thought Colin Blackwell would be producing offensively the way he has.
That’s certainly true for Quinn, and everybody else for that matter.
But the fact is: Ever since Blackwell’s call up from the taxi squad on Jan. 23, the 27-year-old has cemented himself in the Rangers’ lineup with his reliable play and unexpected offensive prowess. The only time he’s been out of the lineup since joining the active roster was when he missed four games due to an upper-body injury.
Blackwell played the first 33 games of his NHL career with the Predators before he signed with the Rangers in October 2020. He had just three goals and seven assists to his name, including a goal and four assists in his last six games of the 2019-20 season.
The Rangers signed Blackwell to a two-year contract that carries a $750,000 cap hit, with the first year as a two-way deal but the second just with the varsity roster. The logistics of his contract make it safe to assume that Blackwell made an ideal candidate for the Blueshirts to expose in the Seattle Kraken expansion draft set for July 21.
But considering Blackwell has registered a point in eight of his first 11 games (five goals, three assists) and has subsequently made a case that he is more valuable on the team than as an expendable player, the Rangers may have had a hidden gem fall into their laps.
“A guy that’s 27 that’s kicked around a little bit and is getting a good chance, I think you’re always going to get a really dialed-in player, a player that doesn’t take a day for granted,” Ryan Strome said of Blackwell, who was promoted to play alongside him on the second line the last few games. “He comes to the rink for practice and even if he misses a pass or shot, you know, some of us might laugh or get on each other, but he’s really seriously trying to dial it in because that’s just the attitude he’s needed to get to this level. I think it’s really paying off for him immensely.
“He is a great role model in that sense with his work ethic and the results he’s had for everybody.”
Quinn gave Blackwell high praise during training camp, but the Massachusetts native didn’t make the opening-night roster and was waived on Jan. 11. He was later designated to the taxi squad after going unclaimed. When he made his Rangers debut on Jan. 24 in the 3-2 loss to the Penguins, Blackwell scored in the first period to give the team a 1-0 lead.
Blackwell then had back-to-back assists in the Rangers’ next two games against the Sabres, including a picture-perfect pass he sent to Alexis Lafreniere for the overtime winner in Buffalo on Jan. 28. His point streak only came to an end when he got hurt on Jan. 30.
In the last six games, Blackwell has posted four goals and an assist.
Strome went as far as to compare Blackwell to Jesper Fast, who signed with the Hurricanes in free agency this offseason after seven seasons in New York. Fast was a second-line staple who won the team’s Players’ Player award, given to the player “who best exemplifies what it means to be a team player,” five years in a row.
“He’s a guy that brings a lot of energy to a game, he’s got a hardness to his game that allows him to use his skills,” Quinn said of Blackwell. “He’s got a pretty good set of hands and as you’ve seen on a couple of initial rushes, he’s got the ability to make plays and he goes to the areas he needs to go to in order to score. And he certainly is taking advantage of his opportunity.”