Tarmo Reunanen showed up to practice with the Rangers’ AHL affiliate in Hartford as usual Monday morning, but noticed that his name wasn’t on the roster.
“I was thinking, ‘What’s going on?’” the Finnish defenseman said Tuesday. “And the head coach [Kris Knoblauch] told me there was a possibility I’d play with the Rangers. So, it was a weird morning but was nice.”
With the Rangers down a defenseman in wake of Adam Fox’s designation to the COVID-19 protocol list, Reunanen was recalled from the Wolf Pack and made his NHL debut in the Rangers’ 5-4 overtime loss to the Flyers Monday night at Madison Square Garden.
It must’ve been a whirlwind of a day, shifting from the mindset of a regular practice in the minors to preparing for the first NHL game of his career. But in Rangers head coach David Quinn’s opinion, the abrupt transition was likely the easiest way for Reunanen to experience his first NHL call up.
“I think that might be the best scenario, just you’ll be told that day you’ll play and you’re not overthinking it,” Quinn said. “I thought he did a good job, I thought he was composed and made good decisions with the puck. Not just [his assist on] the goal, but I thought he did a lot of good things for us [Monday night].”
Reunanen, the Rangers’ fourth-round pick in the 2016 NHL Draft, was inserted on the third defensive pairing next to Brendan Smith and received a team-low 8:57 of ice time. He registered his first NHL assist on Artemi Panarin’s goal at 8:12 of the second period, sending a cross-ice pass to the star winger to cut the Rangers’ deficit to 2-1.
The 23-year-old may have been competing in his first game with the Rangers, but it didn’t take him long to recognize what (or who) makes the team successful.
“I love to shoot the puck, but I knew that I was going to have two options … to shoot the puck or pass it, and then I had some time to watch who was there and I saw Panarin,” he said of his first NHL point. “I thought that I have only one option and took that pass. Happy to have that goal.”
After bouncing between Mestis, the second-highest men’s hockey league in Finland, and SM-Liiga, the top professional Finnish league, to start this year, Reunanen joined the Wolf Pack for his first season in North America. In eight AHL games so far he has registered two goals and three assists.
The Rangers have a relatively deep pool of left-handed defensemen, with players like Yegor Rykov (KHL loan), Zac Jones (NCAA) and Matthew Robertson (WHL) in the middle of their respective seasons.
But Reunanen is regarded as an offensive-minded defenseman, which the Rangers need after they banished Tony DeAngelo until the organization works out a trade or another course of action.
Quinn said he thought highly of Reunanen during training camp, and that evidently stuck with the head coach.