The NY Rangers had their last full scrimmage this week, and the lines appear to be set. There weren’t many changes, and there were no surprises in camp. The Blueshirts will travel to Toronto soon, and prep for their exhibition game with the Islanders on the 29th.
1. The Brendan Lemieux suspension impacts the Rangers because they lose a good net front presence. However they have the depth to withstand that injury. Phil Di Giuseppe can slide into that 3LW role, leaving the fourth line relatively unchanged with Brett Howden, Julien Gauthier, and Greg McKegg. When he returns, I can see him being inserted into either the third or fourth line.
2. If there are any changes to the lineup, it will be at the 3LW spot and for most of the fourth line. It sounds like the top eight forwards are set. Di Giuseppe had a solid run to end the season and looked to be a good depth forward. Gauthier did nothing wrong, but didn’t make himself stand out. The issue will be how much Howden is used, and if the long rest helped him at all. So far, he hasn’t showed he belongs, yet the coaching staff uses him regularly.
3. As for the defense, Brendan Smith is the best option to join Jacob Trouba. Libor Hajek is in the Howden boat of needing more time, or just not being NHL players. That pairing should be able to hold their own defensively while Adam Fox and Tony DeAngelo (separately) do the heavy lifting offensively. It’s not ideal, especially with Staal getting regular minutes at even strength and on the PK, but this is a flawed roster.
4. Speaking of the PK, the simple fix is to swap out Staal with Fox. Fox is paired with Ryan Lindgren at even strength anyway, and is probably the best pair the Rangers have right now. To win in the playoffs, you ride your best players. Fox is their best defenseman by a country mile. I get why David Quinn might want to rest Fox, who will likely get 20-25 minutes a night without PK time, but it’s the playoffs.
5. The top powerplay unit will carry the Rangers, if it comes to that. I’m expecting sloppy play in the first 2-3 games of the series, which means stick penalties and powerplays. The problem is the Canes have a solid top unit as well.
6. Dougie Hamilton is out for “weeks,” which helps the Rangers tremendously. That’s a big loss for the Canes, who were already without Brett Pesce. They still have solid defensive depth, but replacing both is a tall order. It wouldn’t shock me to see the top-six of the Rangers pinning them down regularly.
7. The Rangers have a big edge in net. But don’t sleep on the Canes, even with their injuries. This is a very good team.