Before we begin, let’s note that David Quinn has already stated that he intends on playing Artemi Panarin with Mika Zibanejad to start the season. While that is the plan, plans change. Chemistry is a factor. Overall lineup depth is a factor. Injuries become a factor.
While injuries will undoubtedly impact the Rangers at some point, assuming a healthy roster means that the Rangers will be looking to find some kind of top-six that is both lethal and deep. The obvious connection of Panarin-Zibanejad is the one folks gravitate to, with Panarin being a bonafide star and Zibanejad showing he is a legit 1C. It makes logical sense.
Loading up the top line has certainly worked for Boston, as Marchand, Bergeron, and Pastrnak are one of the best lines in the league. But what makes Boston work is they have a dangerous second line too with Krejci, DeBrusk, and Coyle. Teams can’t load up on that first line because the second will crush them.
Let’s asssume, for a second, that Panarin and Zibanejad are joined by Pavel Buchnevich to start the season. That leaves a second line of Chris Kreider-Filip Chytil-Kaapo Kakko. While certainly very skilled with legitimate potential, there are a ton of questions. Will Kakko be ready to take that role right away (signs point to yes)? Will Chytil be able to keep up as the 2C? Can Kreider help develop the under-21’s? Will Kreider even be here?
I guess the most important question here is what the overall goal of the season is. If it is to compete for a playoff spot, development be damned, then Panarin and Zibanejad makes sense. That combination has the potential to put up a point per game pace for each player. All they need is a RW that is skilled enough to hold his own.
If the goal is to teach and develop, then perhaps splitting up Zibanejad and Panarin makes sense. Panarin is the best skater on the roster, and with Chytil’s progression as the 2C so critical to future success, what better way to teach the kid than to play him with an elite winger? Ditto Kakko, who likely doesn’t need the sheltering treatment but will need time to adjust.
I don’t think there’s a wrong answer here, as either setup will work for the Rangers. It’s a matter of what is best for the short term and long term success. Making the playoffs this year is a stretch goal, but shouldn’t sacrifice the long term vision of developing these kids and ensuring the Rangers have sustained success coming out of this rebuild.