Dryden Hunt looks to find home on Rangers’ second line

Dryden Hunt looks to find home on Rangers’ second line

ST. LOUIS — The Rangers will face yet another team clawing for points and optimal playoff position Thursday night when they take on the Blues for the second time in eight days.

After losing to a desperate Wild squad on Tuesday, the Rangers should expect the same from St. Louis. The Blues will not only be looking to avoid a fifth straight loss, but will also be seeking redemption after the first meeting of the season, last week at the Garden. In that game, he Rangers scored three unanswered goals in the third period to secure a 5-3 win.

“It’s a big focus on the last game,” Rangers coach Gerard Gallant said after practice Wednesday. “We know their team, they’re a skill team, probably not as heavy as they were a couple years ago, but they’re still a faster team, they’re a quick team. You look at their lineup, it’s depth right through it. Very talented team.

“They’re going through a rough patch here like most teams do, but it’s going to be a battle. They’re trying to get points here, they’re in a tight playoff chase like everybody else and it should be a good game.”

Dryden Hunt (center) celebrates with Ryan Strome (left) and Adam Fox after scoring a goal in the Rangers' 5-2 loss to the Wild.
Dryden Hunt (center) celebrates with Ryan Strome (left) and Adam Fox after scoring a goal in the Rangers’ 5-2 loss to the Wild.
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One of the few positives to take away from the Rangers’ frustrating 5-2 loss at Minnesota was that Dryden Hunt scored his first goal since Dec. 1. The second line, featuring Hunt, Artemi Panarin and Ryan Strome was the only consistent unit for the Rangers on Tuesday.

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“It was a long time, 30 games is quite a long time to not get on the score sheet and you kind of just have to stick with it,” Hunt said. “Playing with those guys, you want to produce. You put that pressure on yourself to kind of contribute and that kind of thing. It was tough, you just try not to think about it and try to bring other things to your game, whether you’re bringing energy on the forecheck, hitting, those types of things add up as well.”

Hunt, who lined up at right-wing on the second unit for the last seven games, pointed out (as many have before him) that Panarin, who often sees plays that most don’t even think of, can be tough to read. Noting that Panarin and Strome have already established chemistry, Hunt sees himself as the third guy who needs to get in on the forecheck and get them the puck.

“I think it’s starting to come,” Hunt said of the chemistry with Panarin and Strome. “Obviously, throughout the season, you go through ups and downs.But I think the last five or six games, we’ve had the puck a lot. We’ve controlled the play. Obviously, when Bread has the puck on his stick, you just got to get open.”

Dryden Hunt avoids a check by Matt Dumba during the Rangers' loss to the Wild.
Dryden Hunt avoids a check by Matt Dumba during the Rangers’ loss to the Wild.
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Hunt said Panarin has been patient with him, even though there have been times when Hunt has sensed a bit of a frustration from his linemate. Panarin has given him pointers, and Hunt said he is always going to listen to a premier NHL player.

Hunt brings a north-south game, which Gallant has taken a liking to, but if he can turn up the production, the second line will be much more effective.

“He got a big goal [Tuesday] night, it was nice to see him break that little goose egg he had for a while,” Gallant said. “But he plays hard and he competes hard. That’s a big part of it. Down the road, what are we six or seven weeks away, hopefully get a chance to get into a playoff spot and get into the playoffs. … But that’s the type of hockey it’s going to be, you’re going to have to be working hard, competing hard and going to those blue paints.

“It’s too early to talk about playoff hockey, but when you talk about it, that’s the way the game is. That first round is competing and battling and getting to those areas.”

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