The Rangers continue to add veteran depth to their group of forwards this summer with Saturday's announcement that the team has agreed to terms with 31 year-old Lee Stempniak on a contract for the upcoming 2014-15 season. Stempniak's signing follows those of Tanner Glass and Matthew Lombardi earlier this month, as well as that of veteran defenseman Dan Boyle on July 1st.
In an interesting side note Stempniak, who split last season with the Calgary Flames and Pittsburgh Penguins, was previously teammates with both Glass and Lombardi. He and Glass played together at Dartmouth College a decade ago as well as with the Penguins last season; while he teamed up with Lombardi with the Phoenix Coyotes--where current Rangers assistant Ulf Samuelsson was an assistant coach--in 2009-10.
The signing of Stempniak gives the Rangers another speedy forward who should fit in well with head coach Alain Vigneault's preferred style of play. He is also a right-handed shot, something of a rarity for the Rangers on the wing. Like Lombardi, who signed this past week with the Blueshirts, Stempniak can play up and down the lineup, meaning he could fill a third-line role or play top-six minutes as he did for parts of last season when he skated alongside Sidney Crosby and Chris Kunitz in Pittsburgh.
Stempniak has scored 150 goals in his NHL career while playing in 637 games with the St. Louis Blues, Toronto Maple Leafs, Coyotes, Flames, and Penguins. He netted a career-high 28 goals in 2009-10 while splitting the season with the Maple Leafs and Coyotes, and he notched 27 with the Blues in 2006-07 when he also produced a career-best 52 points.
As Rangers assistant general manager Jeff Gorton said of the Lombardi signing last week, this is another low-risk, high-reward move by New York, which lost forwards Benoit Pouliot and Brian Boyle to free agency, and Derek Dorsett via trade, within the last few weeks.
"The last few years we've had a few of those low-risk, high-reward guys that hve worked out for us," stated Gorton. "Benoit Pouliot comes to mind. It worked with him. (Anton) Stralman a few years ago, that really worked out well for us. I think as a hockey team, an organization, it's our job to find guys that can come in and help us. I think this is another case of that."
Last season Stempniak scored 12 goals and totaled 34 points in 73 games with the Flames and Penguins--with 11 of those points coming in Pittsburgh where he played 21 games. He scored a pair of goals in the playoffs, including one in Game One of the Metropolitan Division Final against the Rangers at the CONSOL Energy Center.
Now a few months later Stempniak is a Ranger, looking to score for them, not against, as the latest veteran free agent forward to join the Blueshirt fold.