Unless you have been living under a rock for the past week, you know that Carl Hagelin was suspended (questionably) for 3 games for elbowing Ottawa captain Daniel Alfredsson in the head during game 2 of their Eastern Conference Quarterfinal series. Due to this turn of events, the Rangers have lost a key cog in their top line, and one of their biggest speed/forechecking threats.
Chris Kreider was inserted into the lineup in Hagelin’s place for game 3 and acquitted himself well for a pro debut in the middle of a playoff series. By the third period, however, Torts felt that Kreider wasn’t ready to be that guy for the top line and inserted Derek Stepan. The question remains going into Game 4 on Wednesday, who is the right guy to take Hagelin’s spot on the top unit?
Let’s take a look at some possibilities…
- Ryan Callahan– Captain Cally does just about everything for the Rangers, so why not install him on the top line? He could be a huge boon to the forecheck and allow for Richards and Gabby a little more room to operate down low. He also has an unfailing nose for the net, and if those two can generate shots on goal, Cally is a good bet to bang in some rebounds.
- Brandon Dubinsky– Last season’s leading scorer, Dubi would seem to possess the skill set to complement the top line nicely. He has a decent set of hands and can bring some jam to a finesse unit. However, he has had trouble finding the back of the net this season, and has often looked lost between passing and shooting. But, who knows, maybe playing with talent like Gaborik and Richards is just the thing to light the fire under Dubi’s offensive game.
- Derek Stepan– Step was called upon by Torts to add a defensive dimension to the top line as the Rangers were defending the lead in game 3. As Stepan has matured, he seems to be cut from that Callahan mold of intelligent player who can do everything well. He kills penalties, plays the point (whether for better or worse) on the power play, and can play a physical forechecking game as well. His versatility could make the top line a little more dynamic.
- Artem Anisimov– Of all the guys discussed so far, Arty probably has the most raw skill and (maybe tied with Dubi) is the most enigmatic. I actually think Arty has played fairly well in the series thus far, and has shown flashes of being able to hold his own in the skill department with his (possible) new line mates. The question remains, which Anisimov will show up to any given game?
- Brandon Prust– Prust is something of a wild card suggestion, but his work ethic and tireless puck pursuit could serve his more skilled line mates well. If he could play fetch in the corners and create sustained puck possession and an effective cycle, he could fill a role similar to what Hags brought to the table (albeit with much less speed).
- Chris Kreider– Just because Kreider couldn’t cut it in his NHL debut (relatively speaking, of course) doesn’t mean he isn’t a viable option going forward. Once he gets his feet underneath him, he possesses the skill set to best approximate the role Carl plays. He needs to go into the corners with a little more conviction and leverage his size a little better, but let’s not rule him out completely.
The roster holds quite a few intriguing possibilities to replace Hagelin for the next two games. There is of course the Mitchell/Fedotenko possibility, but I’m not a huge fan of that option. Personally, I would go with Ryan Callahan in the short term, and revaluate where everyone fits once Hagelin’s suspension is over. Let me know what you guys think in the comments. I’m honestly not sure what Torts will ultimately decide, but it’ll be an interesting story to follow until #62 returns.