So, what happened to Paul Ranger?

It wasn’t a very long time ago that Paul Ranger was one of the up-and-coming defencemen in the NHL. In looking back through the archives, Ranger was a core piece on a good-looking young defensive unit, and Tortorella apparently said he had one of the best first passes in the NHL at 23.

Paul Ranger broke into the NHL with the Tampa Bay Lightning the first season after the lockout at age 21. He recorded 17 assists in 76 games, ninth in the NHL among defencemen under the age of 22 that season. His numbers would improve the following year. 24 assists in 78 games. The next year he shot the puck a little more and scored 31 points, a career high, thanks to his 10-goal campaign, which is sort of the benchmark for elite offensive defencemen.

Then injuries took over, and Ranger left, only to re-surface last night to apparently sign with the Toronto Marlies. What happened?

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In 2008, Ranger played 72 games. The next year, 42, and the season after it was just 8, and he left the team due to “personal reasons”, returning for tax information in 2010. Then-Lightning coach Rick Tocchet noted that Ranger appeared to have been working out.

Not just his surface numbers look strong, but so do his underlying puck possession number. His Corsi numbers look pretty strong, and it’s also worth noting his overall Corsi score (Corsi ON/60) in both years is a positive number despite no other regular Lightning defenceman who can say the same. Here are his Behind the Net numbers along with his team ranking out of 6 defencemen:

  Relative Corsi Ozone% Rel QoC
2007-08 9.3 (1) 53.6% (6) 0.778 (2)
2008-09 7.5 (1) 45.7% (2) 0.595 (2)

There are some gripes about using Rel QoC as a quality of competition metric, but laid down in an era when coaches did not do a lot of zone-start matching, it’s probably indicative of the trust that Tortorella, and then Barry Melrose and Tocchet, placed in the young defenceman as a player.

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Why did he leave? Perhaps he didn’t like the hockey lifestyle. Here is a brief synopsis of his injury history via TSN.

The concussion listed on 2005/10/26 is quite memorable. Ranger was sidelined by Eric Boulton of the Atlanta Thrashers in one of those “isn’t the goon supposed to be protecting the players?” moments. Here’s an oddly subdued 2005 version of Jay Onrait with the news:

Ranger missed a single game due to that hit, officially, which is crazy, but, yes, there he was dressing on October 26.

Perhaps there were some after-effects, but Ranger never officially sustained another head injury. I was thinking that may have been the reason given for his personal leave.

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What happened between then? Well, here’s a remarkably misogynistic message board thread that quotes a @HockeyBreak tweet that said Ranger returned to school. Apparently this spring, he coached a bantam-AAA team in Whitby along with Ontario Hockey League commissionner and Canadian Hockey League president David Branch.

Perhaps after a hiatus, Ranger rekindled a love for the game. If the rumours are to be true, and we’re certainly not the only outlet reporting that Ranger has signed with the Leafs farm team, and this is announced later in the month, Toronto bought for pennies on the dollar an extremely capable puck-moving defenceman.

Maybe he wanted to be nearer to his hometown, maybe he only sees himself as an AHLer, but he’s a player you’d have to cheer for if he suited up in blue and white whether it has a Marlies or a Leafs logo on the front.

UPDATE – And now…

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