On July 1st the New York Rangers signed a plethora of bargain bin contracts in hopes that the acquired assets will support the big guns. On the offensive side of the puck, players such as Nick Bonino, Tyler Pitlick, and Blake Wheeler will likely be in the lineup on October 12th. How does management maximize the potential of these new faces?
With the recent free agent signings, this is how the lineup may look (from an armchair general manager):
Following lackluster post-season performances, the New York Rangers would benefit from giving Kaapo Kakko a role as a complimentary piece on the Ranger’s top unit.
The time is now for the organization to put Kakko in a position to succeed, as he has become a puck-possession monster and reliable defensive forward. He can grow by becoming a playmaker for the Ranger’s two offensive dynamos in Mika Zibanejad and Artemi Panarin.
As for the Bread Man, it’s a simple calculus. Most fans will hold him accountable not from October to April but for what he will do for the team in May 2024.
Panarin was sub-par when paired with Patrick Kane or Vladimir Tarasenko, and his style of play doesn’t mesh with Kreider’s in five-on-five play.
He does couple well with Zibanejad and has in stints under David Quinn and Gerard Gallant. Why split up the squad’s top center and star winger when you can simply help the two by placing Kakko on their wing as a facilitator? In turn, Kakko would have a chance to flourish in a role that provides every chance to reach the next level that the organization has been antsy to see from the Finish talent.
The New York Rangers would benefit from a checking and scoring line made up of their most talented physical and second-tier of productive skaters.
The counterargument to this line would be the Rangers placing Chytil at the center. Uniting Trocheck on a third line with either Lafrenière or a Kreider/Vesey wing combo takes away from Vesey playing a more valuable role on the fourth line and leaves Blake Wheeler in more of a guessing game in terms of the chemistry he would have with Panarin or Zibanejad. Do you try Wheeler with Panarin, Lafrenière, or Chytil?
Both Kreider and Trocheck have a no-nonsense mentality paired with the ability to mobilize on zone exits with speed. Speed would not be an issue for the line, and neither would a physical brand and game. If the goal under Laviolette is to compete hard with a balance of skill and muscle, mixing Wheeler in with two of the Ranger’s tougher competitors with scoring touch could establish the Rangers against their rigid divisional rivals.
Despite the synergy of Kreider and Zibanejad, the Blueshirts could be advantageous by playing a rugged scoring trio as the de-facto first line. Think of the Vegas Golden Knights who united Mark Stone, Brett Howden, and Chandler Stephenson en route to a championship. Those players individually don’t scream the second line, but they play the game of hockey with the same mentality. Hockey teams win with this type of top-six enrollment.
By construct, this may be the weakest line that has the most upside because of one single link, Alexis Lafrenière. Unless the 2020 first-overall selection impresses in camp, he should begin the season on this line. The good old debate of chicken and egg and earned position versus a position to succeed ultimately now lies on how well the twenty-one-year-old plays.
Filip Chytil can anchor this line, and although trite or cliché, a team fills the bill from a deep center core. The standout kid may have the talents to play the second center role, but that disrupts the chemistry of those players. The Czech center can bear an important and responsible role in leading this third line and controlling the pace of play in a point guard-like fashion.
On the right wing, Pitlick can support Chytil’s north-south game and Lafrenière’s developing NHL-level finesse game by supporting the youngsters in the corners and the dirty areas.
Both players have proven that they can play with their abilities and act as a checking line which could lead to chemistry with Pitlick.
The Rangers need to deploy a strong fourth line next season. Barclay Goodrow (barring he remains a blue shirt) is the anchor either at the center position or on the left wing (which he could swap with Bonino).
Nick Bonino is a certified veteran who may be a strong fourth-line role player in Manhattan. As for Vesey, it goes without saying that he was a formidable role player that had some difficulty finishing last season.
Vesey should play here because he may be a fit-on line three, his chemistry and style of play with Goodrow were a highlight of the Rangers disappointing series against New Jersey.
In a world where a sect of observers believes “skill wins”, the Rangers will succeed in the long run by uniting a brawny and reliable fourth line rather than placing Goodrow or Vesey elsewhere in the lineup chart.