The Rangers have had a lot of issues at forward depth. It’s something we’ve discussed ad nauseam (here, here, here, here). Part of this issue is the roster makeup, there is no denying that. But that problem was only supposed to be limited to the fourth line of Arron Asham, Jeff Halpern, and Mike Rupp. The thought here was that one more quality depth player with speed would be able to balance out the lineup a little better. This was rectified a bit with the addition of Benn Ferriero.
Then injuries started to take its toll. Chris Kreider went down with an ankle injury, and Ryan Callahan went down with a shoulder injury less than a week later. These are two guys expected to play in the top six, which forces guys from the bottom six to move up a slot. This in turn leads to Stu Bickel playing forward, and the likes of Brandon Segal and Kris Newbury getting a game a piece.
But the issue goes deeper than this. The Rangers were assuming they would get top-six quality out of Derek Stepan and Carl Hagelin. They have not gotten this from these two yet. This is also relevant for Kreider, but to a far lesser extent, especially since he started the season on the third line.
The Rangers had their lineup set, and it assumed certain production and a certain quality of play from players already on the roster. They have gotten that from four of their top six, but have not gotten this from Stepan or Hagelin. Therein lies the problem.
Taylor Pyatt is not a top-six forward, but he has been playing infinitely better than the Hagelin/Stepan duo, so he is getting more ice time in a spot where he probably shouldn’t be playing. Ferriero has been outplaying Stepan and Hagelin, so it’s only a matter of time before Torts tries him out on the top pair, especially considering who he rewards with ice time.
Stepan and Hagelin will find their form. It’s only been seven games after all. When they find it (and when Cally returns from injury), the Rangers will get their top-six back in order. If Kreider can find his game, then that rounds out the third line. The addition of Ferriero adds some much-needed balance to the fourth line.
Depth is an issue, but it is exacerbated because certain players are not playing up to expectations. If and when everyone comes around, we will find that the Rangers depth issue extends only to one or two players, if at all, especially with the Ferriero addition.