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The Rangers Have A Big Boy Who Fights

Matt Rempe and Mathieu Olivier fight
Ben Jackson/NHLI via Getty Images

A major streak in the NHL came to an end on Sunday, but it was not Matt Rempe's troublemaker streak. His team, the New York Rangers, took a loss for the first time since Jan. 26, as the Columbus Blue Jackets denied their chance to break a franchise record with an 11th straight victory. But the 6-foot-7, 21-year-old forward once again dropped the gloves. It was CBJ's Mathieu Olivier who clearly wanted to test the kid's mettle on his first shift, and they each fired right fists at each other's faces until the big Ranger went down.

It's been an eventful week for Rempe, and the groundwork for it was laid, really, before he even made his debut. A late bloomer who had trouble breaking into the WHL as a teen, he was drafted in the sixth round in 2020. He was a known quantity to hardcores in large part because he was so freaking huge, and in preseason action back in 2023, he made a name for himself by getting physical against the Islanders.

"He's still just a really young kid, but he's an enormous man," said Rangers coach Peter Laviolette at the time. "And he's only going to get stronger and better."

Rempe got his call-up earlier this month, becoming the first player to skate his inaugural NHL game outdoors. Facing the Islanders, again, in an instant classic, Rempe brawled to a stalemate with Matt Martin on a post-goal faceoff. This was 89 seconds into the game.

For his second appearance on Tuesday, Rempe managed to keep his head down. But against another local rival in New Jersey on Thursday, he couldn't contain himself. After logging just 13 seconds of ice time, Rempe picked up 17 minutes of penalties, getting ejected for this high, speeding forearm to Nathan Bastian.

The word was out: The league's foremost goons wanted a piece of the new guy. And it was Nicolas Deslauriers who stepped up just three minutes into the Rangers' meeting with Philly on Saturday. Deslauriers, despite being overmatched on the tale of the tape, went at Rempe furiously, got an advantage when the jersey stretched over the kid's head, and was able to force him to the ground.

Clearly, this was a premediated scrap on both sides—no flared tempers, no surprise attacks, just two adults whomping each other by mutual consent. Deslauriers pulled back the curtain in the postgame: “I saw him kind of lurking in the warm-ups,” he said. “I’m a guy that doesn’t take no for an answer often, so just went [to him] politely and said, ‘Are we going to do this?’ And, there it is.” (Sidenote: Can a 6-foot-7 guy do anything while quietly upright without it being classified as "lurking?")

Olivier had a similar quote in The Columbus Dispatch after his introduction to Rempe on Sunday: “To be honest, I just told him, ‘Great tilt yesterday and I hope you’re doing all right, because that was a tough one. He said, ‘Yeah, I’m good,’ so first shift he came and asked me. There’s a lot of respect there for doing that. Kudos to him. He’s doing a good job getting noticed, so that takes, uh, for lack of a better word, that takes some [guts]." (I assume the Dispatch is censoring the word "balls.")

Aside from experiencing a variety pack of knuckles to the chin, Rempe has found a couple of ways to more tangibly contribute to his team's efforts. Despite the Columbus loss, he picked up an assist on a drive to the net, and against the Flyers, he scored the 2-1 game-winner in the third by smothering the goalie's sight line and taking a deflection off his leg. That goal earned him a postgame interview on national TV, where Rempe's demeanor was anything but what you'd expect from a guy who's jumped to fifth on the team in penalty minutes in just a week of action. Rather than someone who fights out of anger, or carries a chip on his shoulder, he sounds like a kid who just always wants to sprint toward wherever the most excitement is happening.

Rempe's current pace is impossible. Even putting aside the health risks of fighting (and what 21-year-old doesn't put those aside to follow their baser instincts?), a Cup contender like the Rangers needs more in a forward slot than a guy who's constantly getting trapped by the doors of the penalty box. First impressions are powerful, though. Rempe could avoid fighting the rest of the year, but this opening run will still be memorable enough that he will remain "the large kid that fights a lot." That identity, and that willingness to scuffle, will continue to attract one-on-one challengers. Going forward with his career, how does Rempe stay true to his style of play, protect himself, and ensure he's doing what's best for the team, all at once? Well, the Rangers' next game is a rematch against the Jackets and Olivier. We'll see if we get the slugging Rempe, the goalscoring Rempe, neither, or both.

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