Morgan Barron, who is currently associated with the Rangers AHL club in Hartford, best captured the essence of Kevin Rooney earlier in the season when the 22-year-old was asked if he was frustrated about starting the season in the minors.
“If you look at someone like Kevin Rooney, it took him a while in his career compared to some of those first-round picks that were able to jump right in,” Barron said, raising Rooney unsolicited. “But he just kept going down and laying his head down and going to work. Now he’s someone who’s in line every night and is able to contribute.
“He’s just one of the guys in the locker room that I can look at who has done it the right way.”
Since leaving the Devils as a free agent to sign a two-year deal with the Rangers last October, Rooney has played a consistent role in the series. After appearing in 54 of Rangers’ 56 games in the abbreviated 2020-21 program, Rooney has appeared in all 19 competitions so far this season. The 28-year-old’s latest offensive skill has only further secured his place in the ranks.
After his two-goal performance in Rangers’ 4-1 win over the Islanders on Wednesday night, Rooney is now the second on the team with five goals. He has played in the way that the Rangers hoped their center line on the fourth line would, providing strong advance control while also contributing on the scoreboard. In addition, Rooney has proven himself as one of Rangers’ best penalty killers.
“I think it’s a bit where I left off last season,” he said of his confidence level. “I ended up being lucky to go to the world championships [with Team USA] and I really focused on my faceoffs when I went there and I had some strong numbers over there. I was just trying to continue it this season to bring different elements to this team because we have a lot of skill and are just trying to bring gravel and sandpaper to our team.
“Of course, when you play with [Ryan Reaves] and [Barclay Goodrow], Goody has won two Stanley Cups, Reavo has been to the Stanley Cup, played 700 matches, making my job a little easier. Just try to nurture the two and keep playing my game. “
The Rangers skated in the same lines during training on Thursday as they did in Wednesday’s match, with Kaapo Kakko remaining on the 1A line with Mika Zibanejad and Chris Kreider. Dryden Hunt also continued to skate with Artemi Panarin and Ryan Strome.
With their game against the Bruins in Boston on Friday, the Rangers are set to play the day after Thanksgiving for the eighth time in the last nine seasons. It will also be the Rangers’ seventh appearance in the NHL Thanksgiving Showdown in the last nine seasons, with all seven games away from home against either Boston or Philadelphia.