Rangers’ offense figures to be much improved, but what about the defense?

Dan Boyle will provide more offense, but he’s a downgrade from Anton Stralman in the defensive zone

Just over a year into Alain Vigneault’s tenure as coach of the Rangers, the team’s roster already looks dramatically different than the one he inherited last June. Granted, roster turnover is nothing new for New York, but the moves made over the last 15 months have Vigneault’s fingerprints all over them.

Black and Blueshirts like Brian Boyle and Ryan Callahan are gone and in their place are players with much more skill, like Dan Boyle and Martin St. Louis. Vigneault arrived with a reputation for being a proponent of analytics and a master of matchups, but his actual top priority since arriving in Manhattan has been far simpler: get the team to score more goals.

There’s no doubt the Rangers are better positioned to do that now. The new Boyle should provide a huge boost for the power play, prime spots have been opened for young forwards with scoring potential like Chris Kreider, and as we’ve seen in the preseason, there is plenty more offense on the way.

But on the flip side, the team’s defense is suddenly in question.

The downgrade from Anton Stralman to Boyle in the defensive zone figures to be substantial and top-pairing blueliner Dan Girardi looked like a shell of himself last postseason. Factor in the bullet holes the #fancystats crowd has put through Marc Staal this offseason and the mediocrity of John Moore, and suddenly what was once a team strength seems a little shaky.

And though the Blueshirts brought in defensive depth this offseason, it came in the form of quantity, not quality. Prospects Dylan McIlrath and Conor Allen figure to be next in line if any of the starting six goes down, but neither is proven or has a particularly high ceiling. The only defensive prospect with real potential is Brady Skjei, and he won’t join the team until next season, if then.

The once terrific group of defensive forwards is also much weaker, especially with Derek Stepan on the shelf. New York had one of the top checking lines in hockey last season with Brian Boyle, Dominic Moore and Derek Dorsett, but only Moore remains. He could be the lynchpin to the checking line this year, but it’s also possible that he’ll be asked to contribute in a top-six role, at least while Stepan is out.

The rest of the checking line could be comprised of some combination of Oscar Lindberg, Jesper Fast, Tanner Glass, Chris Mueller, Lee Stempniak and Ryan Malone. The two young Swedes are dependable in their own end, but will be learning on the fly in the NHL. None of the veterans have really been used in this manner before – with the exception of Glass, who has been crucified all summer. Indeed, this year it seems likely that the Blueshirts will forgo a traditional checking line in favor of four balanced units.

Of course, a questionable defensive team can be made to look great with Henrik Lundqvist in net, but John Tortorella’s Rangers thrived because of their team-wide commitment to protecting The King’s territory. In Vigneault’s second year, his foot soldiers will likely be much better at invading the enemy’s, but at what cost to their own?