With an accelerated training camp there won’t be much time for mixing and matching lines, checking out young talent, experimenting in exhibition games. With the NHL season starting January 19th, things are going to be happening quickly in Rangers world. As such, it’s safe to think the New York Rangers roster and opening lineup will be fairly predictable.
The Rangers goalies are set, Henrik Lundqvist will start, Martin Biron will back him up as needed. With only 48 games however, look to see Lundqvist getting a higher percentage of starts then you might expect in an 82 game schedule. Every point is just too valuable.
As my colleague Matt pointed out the Rangers have five guys on defense who are locks, Ryan McDonagh, Michael Del Zotto, Marc Staal, Dan Girardi, and Anton Stralman. The sixth spot will likely be fought out between Steve Eminger, Matt Gilroy and Stu Bickel. Eminger seems like the safest pick to start, Gilroy, the most updside. That said, Bickel did get a fair bit of time down the stretch last season in a part time role, his familiarity with the Ranger’s system could give him the edge. As far as pairings go, it’s always tough to gauge, and always subject to change but here’s a guess:
McDonagh Del Zotto
I know a lot of folks probably will jump at their computer screens with Girardi on the third pairing, but this is simply an attempt to balance the pairings. Ryan McDonagh is the Ranger’s best defensemen. If you watch him carefully he simply makes the right play, he plays strong angles, has catch up speed if needed, and just has great acumen on the ice. One could argue he is the Rangers overall best player, and yes, that includes Rick Nash. He is an emerging super star on defense. With that said, it would be nice to see him paired with Del Zotto who could then be free to roam a little more and get offensive. A skill which makes Del Zotto who he is. Staal is another strong stay at home defensemen who could anchor the second pairing again giving his partner, Stralman, some leeway to pinch forward. Girardi is one of the Rangers top D-men as well, and he can be put with anyone and not be a liability. If you move Girardi up to the front four, or fail to have a strong player on the third pairing, you leave yourself the possibility of being exposed.
As far as forwards go the Rangers should come back with all their guns. Pat Leonard at the Daily News notes that Marion Gaborik and Carl Hagelin, along with Rick Nash, should all be back from injuries. With that in mind, you have to think the front six will be Gaborik, Nash, Brad Richards, Ryan Callahan, Chris Kreider, and Derek Stepan. Some will want to see Hagelin up here, but he makes for the perfect third line player. He’s fast, a spark plug, and can provide some offensive pop. Kreider is a thoroughbred, with his size, speed, and shot, he is going to be a star, and needs to play with good players to elevate his own game. Hagelin is probably a known commodity. Kreider on the other hand is a growing player who might get lost on the third line. With Stepan and Callahan to feed him the puck, his game will elevate. It may be a little optimistic to think that Rick Nash, Marian Gaborik, and Brad Richards will gel. Three bonafide all-star players with big skill. However, with such little training camp John Totorella may be inclined to throw caution to the wind and see if that line can’t form one of the best top three in the league. This would leave Carl Hagelin, Brian Boyle, and a player to be determined on the third line. The Rangers brought in Taylor Pyatt and Jeff Halpern to replace the outgoing Brandon Prust, Artem Anisimov, and Brandon Dubinsky. It will be hard to replace that scoring, and there could be a little power outage on the third line, but with the season so quickly approaching, it’s hard to see the Ranger’s adding anyone right off the bat. I expect to see Taylor Pyatt, next to Hagelin and Boyle. Pyatt is younger than Halpern, and provides more offensive upside. This would leave the fourth line, a respectable fourth line when you think about it, at Mike Rupp, Jeff Halpern and Aaron Asham. Rupp and Asham form a mean two, and Halpern can support that style just fine. This would give us:
Marian Gaborik Brad Richards Rick Nash
Ryan Callahan Derek Stepan Chris Kreider
Carl Hagelin Brian Boyle Taylor Pyatt
Aaron Asham Jeff Halpern Mike Rupp
When all of the said and done, that is a fairly deep lineup. Expect to see Stu Bickel get some spot work on the fourth line and don’t be suprised if JT Miller starts the season with the whale, but comes up after a little seasoning to give the team a kick.
We’ll also have to see who the Rangers bring into camp on top of the aforementioned, but I think that’s a reasonable guess at what the opening 20 might be. What do you think? Share your thoughts in the comments section and follow us on facebook and twitter! Let’s Go Rangers