At practice yesterday, injured center Erik Christensen told Rick Carpiniello of Rangers Report that he is not where he wants to be conditioning-wise:
“I’m still a ways away in my conditioning, I’ll tell you that. A lot of hard work away. I need to be skated pretty good here the next couple of days, because these guys are in shape and I don’t like lagging behind and feel like I’m out of place. I definitely don’t want to feel like that, especially because the team, considering all our absent guys, been playing pretty well and picking up points. So you want to make sure you come in and you’re ready and ready to contribute.”
Christensen, who had been demoted to the fourth line due to his inconsistent play, is going to have a hard time finding his way back into the lineup if he isn’t in shape. In his defense, he had a sprained knee, and there wasn’t much he could do to stay in shape while recovering. However, injuries happen, and coach Tortorella isn’t going to take someone out of the lineup, especially someone who is playing well, in favor of the out-of-shape and inconsistent Christensen.
Initially, the thoughts were that Sean Avery was going to be the odd man out when players started returning from injury. With his much improved play and chemistry with Marian Gaborik, that is no longer the likely scenario. While it is likely that Evgeny Grachev and Kris Newbury will be returned to CT relatively soon, that only clears enough room for two of the other three returning players (Vinny Prospal, Brandon Dubinsky, Ruslan Fedotenko). Of those three returning, two are slated to do so by Thursday (Prospal, Dubinsky), so Christensen is going to have a tough time cracking the lineup over those guys, and he is going to have an even more difficult time playing to a level that forces Mats Zuccarello-Aasen back to the Whale.
Christensen has essentially become a spare part on a Rangers team that will hopefully be clicking on all cylinders. If this is true, then Christensen may find himself as the 13th, or even 14th, forward come the Trade Deadline. He is young, cheap, and his inconsistency makes him easily replaceable. Don’t get me wrong, I would love Christensen on the team as a bottom-six guy if there were room for him. However, with all the clamoring for him on the top line with his lack of production, and the quality of play from the others on the roster, Christensen has simply not done enough to earn his way back on the roster.