This upcoming NHL season is certainly going to be the most abstract strand of hockey games the league has ever seen. Aside from the safety protocols, the possibility of no fans, and most likely shortened season, The New York Rangers roster could also look different as well. With many uncertainties about this upcoming season, it is critical that The Rangers strive to improve from last year and add experience to their extremely young team.
Rangers Offensive Lineup Predictions
The root of The New York Rangers success last season certainly had to do with their threatening offense. They were ranked 7th in the league in power-play percentage, as well as 5th in the league in average goals scored per game. However, this year will most likely look different for The Rangers roster, and hopefully for the better. An extremely significant addition to their offense is Alexis Lafreniere. The drafting of Lafreniere at first overall will bring more depth to the Rangers offense; which will require head coach, David Quinn, to properly balance the young offensive lines.
Rangers First Line
The Rangers top line has consistently been a huge contributor as far as offense goes. When down by a goal in the third period with the clock ticking down, you can bet your bottom dollar Chris Kreider, Mika Zibanejad, and Pavel Buchnevich will lead the charge. Because of this, both Zibanejad and Kreider were top 3 in points for The Rangers this past season. This line has proved to have great chemistry even when one of these three players is not having one of their best nights. The culmination of speed, skill, and hockey IQ, is the main reason why this line blends so well. Due to this, I highly doubt this top line will be changed. Although training camp could bring a reason to separate these three, I for one, can’t picture a scenario where any of these three players do better on another line.
You should be confident that you will see this deadly trio take the ice together on the same line during opening night. All stats and evidence point to this line having nothing but a progression this upcoming season, so long as they are not separated.
This is really where interpretation and opinion come into play when deciding lines. With the addition of Alexis Lafreniere, David Quinn will have to find the right place for him to play. Some say the first line, others say second, some even say third. But before we pick and choose lines for Lafreniere, we must understand whose spot he might be taking. The Rangers second line usually looks something like Artemi Panarin (LW), Ryan Strome (C), and Jesper Fast (RW). However, Jesper Fast was traded in the offseason to the Carolina Hurricanes, meaning The Rangers need someone to fill the RW spot on the second line. I believe Kaapo Kakko fills this role perfectly.
During the pause of play last season due to the Coronavirus, Kakko worked on becoming bigger, faster, and stronger. It was obvious that his hard work was paying off, especially once the playoffs came rolling around. Even though it was an early exit for The Rangers, Kakko shined as a rookie in the three games, demonstrating poise and control on the ice. Kakko’s size and strong puck possession will alleviate pressure for Strome, who was once carrying the dead weight of Fasts’ lackluster offensive talent. Kakko’s presence will also allow for Artemi Panarin to become even more of a goal scorer. With Kakko and Strome both being good puck handlers, Panarin will now focus more than ever on setting up shop in the slot; thus contributing to more goals, and high scoring opportunities.
So long as Kakko keeps steadily improving, I think he has a lot to offer to a second line with so much talent, side by side with Panarin and Strome.
Rangers Third Line
In the past, The Rangers third line is usually where the production begins to taper down. This year, however, will be a different story. Towards the end of last season, the third line usually consisted of Phillip Di Guiseppe (LW), Filip Chytil (C), and Julien Gauthier (RW). In my opinion, I think this is where Lafreniere should start in terms of lines. Remember, he has not seen his first NHL game yet, and despite his amazing talents, this is not the QMJHL. Lafreniere must first make the transition, and then we could talk about moving him up lines. For all we know, he could perform terribly in his first season.
I hope this is not the case, but we must treat him as a rookie, and play him where he can most benefit. Due to this, I think Brendan Lemieux would be a perfect fit at right-wing to play alongsideLafreniere.
Although Lemieux is a lefty shot, he has experience playing the right side before and is comfortable playing both wings. You may be wondering why Lemieux would play with a first overall pick like Lafreniere? Well, the answer is because of his physicality. Lemieux is known as one of the few tough guys on the Rangers and will offer Lafreniere a lot of protection on the ice. Having the ability for Lafreniere to come into the NHL and not have to be worried about the physicality aspect of the game is exactly why Lemieux should be at right-wing. Aside from being hard as nails, Lemieux is great in front of the net. His strong build and excellent deflection skills will give both Chytil and Lafreniere a great screen when shooting.
As far as the center position goes, I think Filip Chytil has to remain third-line center for Lafreniere and Lemieux. Even though I am a big Chytil fan and would love to see him move up in lines, I think for a third liner, these are some of the best linemates you could possibly have. Keep in mind Chytil’s is still young and has to find his game, which is why I am hoping Lafreniere will help Chytil take big strides. Both of them being young and of similar playstyle could influence Chytil to become more confident in his skills. The chemistry that could develop between two young players trying to find their game could equate to a lot of goals, and a lot of points.
For most teams, the fourth line is not where your team’s biggest contributors lie. For The Rangers, that is not necessarily the case. The fourth line usually changes quite often, but I think its reputation could also change after this season. At left-wing, I think Philip Di Guiseppe will fit in well. The AHL call up towards the end of last season even occasionally found himself on the second line. If Di Guiseppe manages to find himself a solidified role on the team, he could definitely rack up some points. Centering him will most likely be Brett Howden. Howden has seen time on the wing before, but I think The Rangers are hoping for the young player to begin to come into his own this season.
Howden is a very capable player trying to find out how he can fit in. With some leadership, Howden could find himself taking control of his inexperienced linemates. I say that because I think on the right-wing should be the relatively new Ranger, Julien Gauthier. I’ve been a big fan of Gauthier, even writing a great article about him. His massive size and speed will definitely be a great outlet for Howden to lean on in times of trouble. Overall, even though these three players are lacking in NHL games played, their potential makes them deadly. If the three of them could find a way to build chemistry, they will be successful. The only downside is the experience between the three which is why I predict there is a chance Lemieux finds himself on this line to offer guidance.
In general, all these possible line combinations are merely my personal predictions. Wherever you look, some people will tell you Lafreniere should player first line, or that he should play center. While I acknowledge that he will indeed be a key piece in the Rangers depth, The Rangers must not jeopardize his development by playing him somewhere that he doesn’t belong. When making lines, you have to be open to new things, while also sticking to what has won you games. This is why I assume the first line will remain untouched. From there, stick to the chemistry that you know is there with Strome and Panarin. After that, give Chytil and Lafreniere a chance to feed off of each other. Finally, let Howden develop at the center position with young players at his wings. Those are the definites that will most likely happen.
The remaining positions that have to be filled are for writers like myself to speculate about, you to read about, and for the Ranger coaching staff to make the overriding decision about. From there, there’s nothing we could do but sit back, and enjoy the ride.