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Where Matt Rempe Goes, Trouble Follows

Matt Rempe looks at Jonas Siegenthaler down on the ice
Jared Silber/NHLI via Getty Images

In only 10 games since making his NHL debut, Matt Rempe has established himself both as a massive fan favorite (if you like the Rangers) and Public Enemy No. 1 (if you like the team playing against the Rangers). The gigantic 21-year-old forward, drafted in the sixth round in 2020, hasn't done much of note on the scoresheet, notching just one goal and one assist, but as a checker and a fighter he has been impossible to ignore. Game after game, he's arrived willing to scrap with opponents, as if he's suiting up specifically to test himself as a barroom brawler and not a hockey player. So far in his career, Rempe is averaging over five minutes worth of penalties per game, and he's spent only two more minutes actually on the ice than he's been given to serve off it as punishment.

The New Jersey Devils in particular have seen the worst of him. In the two games they've played against New York with Rempe in the lineup, he's logged 32 penalty minutes off a pair of especially brutal collisions. Nathan Bastian took a high hit at high speed back on Feb. 22, and late in the second period on Monday, right after the Rags went up 2-0, Rempe got ejected again. This time, he skated perpendicular to Jonas Siegenthaler as the Jersey defenseman was dumping the puck, and Rempe made contact to his face with a pretty deliberate-looking elbow.

Kurtis MacDermid, who Jersey acquired not long after Rempe ran rampant through them last month, was looking for a showdown all night. But Rempe, who's taken more punches in 10 games than a human brain probably should in a lifetime, constantly drove him crazy by breaking a habit and declining to fight. After the ejection, Rempe only aggravated MacDermid more by waving goodbye. MacDermid said afterward he wished he could have "taught [Rempe] a lesson."

"He's a young kid in this league, he has a lot to learn still. You don't do things like that in your first year in the league, especially. I lost quite a bit of respect for him tonight."

The cowboy vigilantism is a bit much, but it's clear to anyone watching that Rempe is going to burn out if he keeps up this pace. From a marketing perspective, the Rangers have to appreciate that a sixth-rounder who's only scored once for them is already sparking cheers at the Garden like he's Rod Gilbert. As an agitator, he's useful when he hits clean, screens goalies, and frustrates opponents, as he did last night right up until the Siegenthaler offense. But he's of no use to a team hunting a Cup if his primary impact on a game is leaving his group down a forward. There's now a target on Rempe's back big enough for even his 6-foot-7 frame, and if he doesn't learn to keep his elbows down, it's only going to get bigger.

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