One of the more exciting storylines of the early days of the 2023-24 season is the new-look second line, a.k.a; the ‘French Toast’ line. The idea behind this naming takes into account all three players’ names: Artemi Panarin‘s ‘Bread’ nickname, Alexis Lafrenière‘s French identity, and the pronunciation of Filip Chytil‘s last name, i.e., “heat,” combining the three to make French Toast.
While nice in its own right, the name is the least spectacular thing to come from that second line. Going into this season, Panarin, Chytil, and Lafrenière all had relatively different expectations.
Artemi Panarin was lauded after a disappointing playoff run and decided to shave his head to rid himself of the “evil forces” that lay in his hair, setting himself up for a new stage in his career. While surprising many Ranger and NHL fans alike, the move seemed to have worked, as Panarin has been on fire recently. Exploding for 12 points in 8 games out of the gate, he looks like a man possessed.
Everybody knows what Panarin can do, but to see him actualize it this consistently is a marvel. He’s playing with fire, passion, and everything you want and expect to see out of Panarin’s game. Furthermore, he’s complemented by two young, skilled players who have proven to gel beautifully. Artemi Panarin has had a career renaissance, and while he never was bad it’s great to see him back atop the league’s best.
Onto the next Ranger, Filip Chytil was resigned to a team-friendly deal this offseason. After playing most of last season in the 3C role, he wanted to take the next step in his career and prove himself as a valuable center. 8 games into the season, he has done just that, as he took over Vincent Trocheck‘s role as 2C and has proved to be the perfect centerpiece to that second line.
With six assists in 8 games, Chytil is becoming more of a playmaker, but his shot is still deadly. His combination of shooting and play-driving skills, despite not having a goal yet, as well as his hunger in the offensive zone, make for a perfect compliment to Artemi Panarin’s game. The two work so well together as they combine their skill sets to generate high-danger rush chances.
This was put to action in the Rangers 3-0 win against the Edmonton Oilers, where Panarin beautifully set up Lafrenière for his 4th goal of the season.
Last but certainly not least is former 1st overall pick Alexis Lafrenière. After a disappointing preseason and constant debate amongst Ranger fans, people were all but ready to give up on Laf’s career. He’d never be more than a 3rd line player, and his time to shine was dwindling. Enter Peter Laviolette and his willingness to commit to Lafrenière on the 2nd line playing his off-wing. This decision has provided dividends for the Rangers.
Despite having no assists, Lafrenière has four goals through his first eight games. That’s what you get when you give young, skilled players playing time with a team’s best talent! Some might say that he’s only able to realize his talent with Panarin, but remember, Laf had about 40 points last season playing on the third line. That’s nothing to scoff at and certainly far from bust territory. Lafrenière’s great start out of the gate will set him up for a breakout year this season and give him the confidence he needs to reach his potential.
What is especially important about the French Toast line is Laviolette’s commitment to them. Under previous regimes, lines have been fickle, and young players like Lafrenière or Chytil were only in the top 6 for maybe a shift or a game. However, now, it’s been eight games with the same top 6, and the Rangers are 6-2.
Who would’ve guessed that consistency would reap benefits? Additionally, the second line has an expected goals percentage above 55%, and leads the team in expected goals for with 4.6 (per moneypuck.com). More specifically, all three players have personal expected goals percentages above 55%, with Panarin leading the way at seventy(!) percent. With 22 combined points through the first eight decisions, this line has been excellent.
Ranger fans should be pleased with how the team has opened up the season. They look strong, confident, and deep throughout the lineup. What’s crazy is the team could get better. They have a low team shooting percentage, and their fourth line does need a little work. But the top 6 is solidified and stronger than ever. Make no mistake: The New York Rangers are a wagon.