When the Rangers opened camp in September, the assumption was that Brad Richards would play either second or third line center and Chris Kreider would be playing first or second line left-wing. It’s amazing how quickly things change. Six games into the season, Richards has solidified himself as the top LW, while Kreider is working on his game in the AHL.
With Richards no longer playing center, the Rangers vaunted depth heading into the season is no more. Derek Stepan and Derick Brassard are still the top two guys down the middle, but Brian Boyle –who we believe is best suited as a 4C– is now lining up as the 3c, and Dominic Moore is lining up as the 4C. The best case scenario for the Rangers has Boyle and Moore on the same line, providing excellent defense while chipping in offensively here and there.
Naturally, this creates a hole at 3C. Boyle is a great asset to this club, but he is best served as a shutdown guy taking defensive zone draws.
It is too early in the season to go searching the trade market for a 3C, but perhaps the Rangers found a blessing in disguise. Ryan Callahan is out for the next 3-4 weeks, and the Rangers called up Darroll Powe to fill the hole in the lineup. Powe will likely play fourth line minutes, which means J.T. Miller will get top-nine minutes instead of defensive responsibilities with Moore and Derek Dorsett.
There is a chance that Miller will slide into Cally’s spot with Brassard and Richards, which means a lot of offensive zone starts and an opportunity to showcase his offensive talent at the NHL level. Should he succeed, then perhaps he will be given the opportunity as the 3C when the club is fully healthy. The one problem that arises right away is that Miller is a left-handed shot, so sliding into Cally’s spot on the right side may be a bit more than the 20-year-old can handle.
If Miller isn’t provided with that opportunity, then the Rangers –even when completely healthy– will still have a 3C issue. Moore might be a temporary fix while they deal with injuries, but the club is best served having him with Boyle to create a great shutdown line.
Of all the pending UFAs, very few make sense for the Rangers. Paul Stastny from Colorado is an interesting option, but the salary doesn’t work (Stastny makes $6.6 million). There are ways around it (salary retention, dealing dead weight contracts, etc), but the cap likely gets in the way for Stastny.
Matt Stajan from Calgary is an option if healthy, but he’s not exactly someone you clamor for. Steve Ott ($2.95 million) is an interesting choice from Buffalo, and you assume that he will be made available. If Nashville falls out of contention, then David Legwand ($2.5 million) might be an option, but there’s some cap maneuvering to be done there.
The best case scenario for the Rangers is allowing Miller a chance to prove himself in an offensive role, and then shifting him to the 3C and allowing him to grow from there. The 3C spot for Miller gives him the minutes required and allows the coaching staff to shelter his minutes a bit. There are other options, but considering the cap crunch, Miller’s success would greatly help this club.