Although the Rangers are likely to benefit from a lockout –due to the injury to Marian Gaborik– there is still a solid chance that when the season starts, the club will still be without their top scorer from last season. Gaborik, who had shoulder surgery to repair a torn labrum in June, is said to be out five or six months recovering from the surgery.
The acquisition of Rick Nash actually gives the Rangers tremendous flexibility when dealing with this injury. Nash is a rare forward that can play both wings, and play them at a high level. This gives the Rangers the ability to fill the spot opened up by Gaborik’s injury on either the left side or the right side.
The players that are likely to play on the top six –alongside Nash, Brad Richards, and Derek Stepan– are the ones you would expect: Carl Hagelin, Ryan Callahan, and Chris Kreider. All three played on the top two lines in the playoffs, and are either decent offensive threats (Cally), or players with some great offensive potential (Kreider, Hagelin).
However, John Tortorella is known for not rushing his rookies, and generally placing them on the third line to get their feet wet. If Torts decides to take this route with Kreider, then the Rangers will need one more winger to play the top six while Gaborik rehabs.
Taylor Pyatt is the easy choice to turn to if Kreider plays a third line role in the beginning of the season. He’s the veteran with a 20 goal season under his belt. He plays a power forward type of game, which is something the Rangers lack.
Many are already penciling J.T. Miller in the lineup, but it’s more realistic to pencil Christian Thomas into the lineup as a stopgap until Gaborik is healthy. Thomas has no Junior eligibility, thus has no nine game rule. Even though Miller can play in the AHL, the Rangers would want the option to return him to Juniors if need be.
The smart money is on Kreider, Hagelin, and Cally filling in on the top six with Nash, Stepan, and Kreider while Gaborik is out. However the Rangers have some great flexibility should one of those options fail or get injured. Nash’s ability to play both wings really opens up the line options for the Rangers, which is something that may have been missed in his acquisition.