AnalysisHockey Tactics

An early look at the Rangers top 6

Today, we’re going to take a break from CBA talk and look down the road to training camp and beyond. Call me hopeful, but this suit thinks the NHL will play a partial season. With this in mind, perhaps no other aspect of a training camp, preseason, or regular season roster is more critiqued & analyzed by fans than line combinations, especially how Torts generates line combos.

Creating line combos is everyone’s chance to play armchair coach. It doesn’t matter what team you follow or which coach stands behind your bench. Every fan wants to dream up lines and see them produce. For the Rangers, this will be the first time John Tortorella will have a top 6 that won’t be a revolving door.

In his first few seasons as coach, Torts lacked a top flight center. As a result, Torts was left to choose from average Joes for the first line such as Erik Christensen, Ollie Jokinen and Brandon Dubinsky, to name a few. Once Brad Richards came aboard and Derek Stepan emerged, the Rangers center position stabilized. Of course, then they lacked a premiere scorer on the left side of the ice. From 2009-2011, guys best suited for bottom 6 minutes like Avery, Fedotenko, Chris Higgins and Wojtek Wolski all had stints in a top 6 role.

With a 2013 season hopefully around the corner, Torts could finally have balanced scoring throughout the lineup. Here’s an early look at what opening night line combinations could look like…

Scoring line #1: Rick Nash – Brad Richards – Ryan Callahan

No matter where you put him, Rick Nash is a 30+ goal scorer any day of the week and twice on Sunday. The Rangers haven’t had a scorer this dynamic since Jagr. Nash finds twine from everywhere on the ice. He can score in the crease, off one-times, off the half boards, on the rush, etc. His line mates may not be etched in stone, but chances are his role as first line left wing is.

Brad Richards proved those who questioned his contract he’s still a premiere player in this league. He won the majority of his faceoffs and he was clutch at all the right times. If he plays with Nash, I’d expect an uptick in his production, even at this stage of his career. Plus, it will help he no longer has to pass to Dubinsky where scoring chances went to die last season.

I put up the poll to your right asking, “Should the Rangers form a 1st line featuring Nash-Richards-Gaborik?” Hundreds of you have taken it and 56% of you think they should be split up to spread the defense. I 100% agree. These guys should be separated to create mismatches, which we all got a lesson in last year against the Devils. Plus, I think Richards and Nash together can make a lot of pretty plays when pressuring the offensive zone. But like every other superstar combo, they will need someone drawing attention in front of the net. Who better than Cally to have in that role?

Scoring line #2: Chris Kreider – Derek Stepan – Marian Gaborik

Kreider hasn’t lit the world on fire in the AHL this season (10 points in 21 games), but AHL stats are meaningless when it comes to potential production at the Show. If Kreider makes improvements in his defensive zone coverage, he will ultimately have the puck more in the offensive zone and more chances to bury that heavy shot of his. So long as he’s learning and improving on the defensive side of the puck, he’ll be here when the ice is eventually laid at the Garden.

I liked the way Derek Stepan and Marian Gaborik clicked when they played together in the early parts of last season. For a while, they were on the only consistent combo producing. I’d like to see these two get another crack at playing together. They seemed to sense where each other were positionally and that means the world when trying to generate offense from the rush.

I’m sure many of you think Gabby should be on the first line and I wouldn’t argue with you. But to my earlier point against super lines, Torts needs to create mismatches. He needs to get certain guys away from the top defensive pairings. If there’s anyone I want finding open ice on this team and capitalizing on defensive miscues, it is Marian Gaborik.

Stayed tuned for the bottom six…

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  1. “…but AHL stats are meaningless when it comes to potential production at the Show.”

    Not quite.

    And assuming the second line plays average to above average competition, Kreider and Stepan may struggle. I would absolutely put Hagelin instead of Kredier, and as for Stepan there is no replacement besides Boyle (who could easily be a 2nd line center), but he’ll be tasked with typical 3rd line heavy lifting (this is where we will miss Dubinsky badly).

    Kreider was used in a very offensive-minded and defensively non-responsible role, and he either needs to be used that way for at least one more year or he needs AHL seasoning because he’s probably not ready for (consistent/season-long) top six NHL competition.

    1. I’m familiar with NHLe, and have used it in a few posts, but that one is very hit or miss. Corey Locke is my best example, at technically he should have been a decent scorer in the NHL.

      I, like you, love my fancy stats, but it’s very tough to gauge AHL success vs. NHL success. NHLe gives us a projection, but projections are about as accurate as Chris Higgins with an empty net.

      1. I agree Dave, we both know when it comes to the numbers they can miss as much as be dead-on. But with the sample size the NHLe is based off, if we went through 100 random regular NHL players that spent a decent amount of time in the AHL at some point, usually their AHL PPG would be higher than their NHL PPG.

        The way I read all these reports of Kreider struggling with the Whale is that he simply needs some professional hockey seasoning. Look at this BC numbers, where he had a solid PPG progression and always had more goals than assists. The kid can play, but I think he needs to ease into it more similar to what Cally and Dubi did, and not like Hagelin or Stepan were able to.

        He had a dream NHL start in the playoffs with a succesful team, but we all know he scored better than he actually played last spring.

        1. Right, but considering his defensive liabilities, he might be better suited for top-line duties. That third line with Boyle is going to be used primarily as a shutdown line (major assumption on my part). Hagelin fits the defensive mold better than Kreider.

          1. Agree with Dave here. There are plenty of guys who see big minutes in the AHL and put up a ton of points, but never make the Show due to poor defensive awareness, sub-par skating, undersized, the list of reasons goes on and on.

            The point I am trying to make here is that if Kreider improves in all facets of the game, the Rangers aren’t going to leave him on the farm just because he’s not scoring goals in abundance. However, if he’s a liability out there defensively then it’s a different story.

  2. We need to stop putting Chris Kreider in the top 6. He may (someday) be in that class, but certainly not yet. Besides, if you pair Gabby and Stepan you need someone who can play gritty/corner-mucking hockey. Maybe even someone who play in front of the net. I say move Boyle to a wing and let him play here.

      1. Yes, unles you think Asham can play the role, but his scoring numbers do not dictate that. Boyle can still play on the PK so he will get the face-offs.

        We have different players in the 2013-2014 season anyway

          1. Agree with Dave. Boyle is one of the better defensive centers in the game and produces very little offense. Not sure how that equates to being used as #1 or #2 left wing when you already have Nash, Kreider, and Hagelin on the depth chart.

  3. After watching the Whale play Syracuse, I’m not convinced that Kreider can make the team.

      1. 10 games does not mean he is ready for prime time. With this full year at the Whale, next year he may be ready. No hockey in 2012-2013 season.

      2. Not saying I agree with their sentiment, but I think they expect Kreider to learn as he goes at the NHL level.

  4. Richards-Nash-Hags

    This should be the way the season, assuming there is one, should start. The Kreider kid gets time on the third line, learns to play some “D”, and can play on the second PP unit. By doing this, there will be no pressure to try to light up the board every night, and can develope some confidence for himself, and Totr’s in him.

    After the kid proves himself, you can make moves with Chris, and Hags, by moving him up to the 1st line, or Callie goes to number 1 line, Kreider to number 2 line, Hags to number 3. We then would have two high scoreing lines, a checking line that can score, and a decent 4th line as well.

  5. Suit

    Sorry if I am playing against you then I play my top line against your 2nd and checking line against 1st. I tell my checkers to pound on your 2nd line every chance they get.

    You don’t have anyone on 2nd line who will go into the corners and win puck battles. Also Kreider is more effective as a RW than he is on the left side.

    Can you count on Stepan to win more than 50% of the faceoffs? I don’t and honestly don’t think Stepan at center is using him at his best.

    1. Jess – Not sure how you are playing your checking line against two of my scoring lines. That will be one fatigued trio. Not sure what you’re even suggesting as far as line combos.

      Stepan improved on the draw last year and will continue to do so. Besides there’s more to being a center than winning draws (e.g. awareness, playmaking ability, etc.) and Stepan is skilled in those facets of the game.

  6. Suit

    So switch Callie, and Hags. The point is still the same, we will have three decent lines if we go with this line up!!!!!

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