Abracadabra. Just like that, the New York Rangers are a hockey club with vast forward depth as they cruise towards their first playoff berth in five years.
Gerard Gallant is going to have some difficult equations to solve with a full-strength Rangers roster approaching the playoffs. With Kaapo Kakko and Kevin Rooney having been absent from their respective injuries, it’s been a tough bid onto the dress list as is.
The Rangers have had five forwards contending for the “eleventh” and “twelfth” slot with Kakko and Rooney out of the picture: Ryan Reaves, Dryden Hunt, Julien Gauthier, Jonny Brodzinski and Greg McKegg.
With both of their returns imminent, Gallant will have to prioritize his pipeline. Brodzinski and McKegg would likely be the excess fat, albeit Gauthier has struggled as a healthy scratch in 12 of the last 13 games.
With Frank Vatrano proving he is the best accomplice to the Mika Zibanejad and Chris Kreider tandem and Andrew Copp sliding in productively next to Artemi Panarin and Ryan Strome, the top six is set.
It’s unlikely that Kakko will reclaim his role on the second line, so a reunion of the “kid line” could form with him, Alexis Lafrenière and Filip Chytil. This makes for slim pickings among the remaining surplus for the Rangers fourth line.
Barclay Goodrow, who has provided the edge, experience and leadership Chris Drury hired him for, is a lock. The Rangers now lose Tyler Motte — who since joining the Rangers at the deadline has been a sparky, pesky presence and an asset to the penalty kill — for an inconclusive period due to a “significant upper-body injury.”
If Motte is ready for playoffs, he’s surely definite to dress. This leaves a final spot for who is either Rooney or Reaves depending on the night. The benefit is that this depth provides Gallant the support he needs to sustain a competitive lineup when hockey injuries occur.
This enables the bottom six to operate as a large “platoon” per se instead of a definitive six players. Players like Rooney, Reaves and Hunt can slide in and out whereas Goodrow can spearhead the third or fourth line depending on the lineup situation.
Then there’s the Gauthiers, Brodzinskis and McKeggs who — despite being different player types — can be deployed as desperation plays.
For what was an inexperienced, homogeneous lineup not too long ago, it’s not a bad problem to have a diverse selection of skill, experience and role players. It’s just a matter of managing them properly under pressure and Gallant has given no reason to doubt that ability up until this point.