Projecting the NY Rangers opening night forward lines

We are in the dog days of November, which seems like an odd thing to say. There’s no real news, and the next shoe to drop will be the actual NHL start date and plans. Until then, we speculate what could happen. For this, let’s speculate what the NY Rangers opening night lines could look like.

Tons of Questions

There are a lot of questions at forward. Will Filip Chytil outplay Ryan Strome in camp? Where will Alexis Lafreniere start the season? Is Brett Howden going to be improved? Are any centers going to move to wing? Which kids are going to force their way onto the lineup?

To start the season, I think it’s safe to assume that Strome will start one line up over Chytil. However I think Chytil will eventually claim the 2C role. This is the year of the kids, and they will all be given ample opportunity to show they belong.

Alexis Lafreniere will likely start on the third line to be “eased into the NHL.” He’s also behind both Chris Kreider and Artemi Panarin at the moment. Lafreniere and Chytil are probably the only two who will have their roles change throughout the season.

Something else to keep an eye on is the Julien Gauthier/Kaapo Kakko competition. Kakko has the inside track on the 2RW spot. But don’t sleep on Gauthier. The team is obviously high on him.

The Rookies

Brett Howden’s spot is no longer secured on this roster. Don’t get me wrong, he will make the team if only to enhance any trade value. But what if Patrick Khodorenko and Morgan Barron both outplay him in camp? Or what about just one of them. Interesting situation to be in. That said, I think the Rangers play it safe with both Barron and Khodorenko and start them in the AHL.

Justin Richards’ name has been out there a lot as well. He seems to be behind both Barron and Khodorenko at the moment, but that could certainly change.

Top Nine Opening Night Prediction

It’s tough to gauge, so let’s remember that this is an opening night prediction. Lines are fluid and this will change often. There is no way that the lines we see on opening night will be the lines we see in April/May.

I think the team starts with the Kreider-Mika Zibanejad-Pavel Buchnevich line in tact. They’ve shown they can be a top line at even strength and play against tough competition. This is a solid start.

Rounding out the top-six we likely get Panarin-Strome-Kakko. Again, don’t change anything or force anything to start the season. Kakko looked good on that line in the short three-game stint in August. He belongs in the top-six.

The third line, likely getting sheltered minutes, can be a sleeper line. Lafreniere-Chytil-Gauthier has skill, size, and speed. If the top-six get the top opposition, this third line has the opportunity to feast. Three legitimate scoring lines has been a fantasy for a few years for the Rangers. This third line is based off potential, but also on the assumption that Chytil takes the next step forward. He’s shown he can do it when moved up the lineup.

The Fourth Line

What a mess this could be. The Rangers need a functional fourth line if they want to compete. The only sure fire thing here is Brendan Lemieux as the 4LW. But again, I think the Rangers play it safe. Howden and Kevin Rooney will start the season on the fourth line, likely with Rooney at winger.

This leaves Khodorenko, Richards, and Barron as some of the top producers in the AHL and the likely first call ups when injuries arise. This also assumes Colin Blackwell will start in the AHL.

The wild card is Phil Di Giuseppe. He performed well in a bottom-six role last year. I could see the Rangers swapping him in and out of the lineup with Rooney, depending on matchups. It will be PDG as the 13F for now since the Rangers love their punching guys.

So the NY Rangers opening night lines, in my prediction:

Di Giuseppe

This will change, probably by the second game of the season. Is it enough to compete with the best teams in the conference?

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  • I think this looks about right. The “extras” only make the team if we open up some additional Cap space, due to the bonus structure.

  • I think your line up is on sound footing. It would be interesting at some point to switch Kreider and Lafreniere. Kreider and Chytil had some decent chemistry and you add a veteran to that line and spread out the youth a little bit. But probably not opening night.

    Regarding Barron, Khodorenko and Richards; IMO I could see Richards stealing the 4C role. I see him as a more defensive minded player with a lower ceiling than the other 2. I think Barron and Khodorenko would be better served in top line roles in the AHL versus a 4C spot in the NHL to start out. I do think they all start out in the AHL and that’s fine.

  • Why do all of these line prediction posts I see everywhere have Rooney at 4RW instead of 4C? Rooney is known as a solid defensive player who wins face offs and yet I consistently see people putting Howden over him? Rooney was signed so they can finally move Howden to the wing and take responsibility off of him, this should be common knowledge.

  • surprise suprise the howden hate starting already here. im open to most hockey discourse but before we annoint barron and whomever college signing can we see them on a pro ice surface first? you are asking a 7th rounder to exclipse a 25 point (so far) nhl player in camp – so i think we should slow down with that.

    as for the lines i think the way this article puts them is the way theyll start. 3rd line may be too green for quinns liking but.. they decided not be active in ufa (or were forced) .. so be it coach.

  • This is the safest most milk-toast prediction ever seen … AND I agree with you Dave. Of course someone will throw a monkey wrench into the whole thing.

  • I also agree Dave. The forward lineup seems to be about right. We will of course see if it happens after camp.

    The young third line will have some growing pains but it also has a lot of potential. So if it comes into being it should be fun to watch.

  • The team as drawn up is not a playoff caliber team. We go 2 lines deep with high expectations for a 3rd line and no expectations for the 4th line.

    Add to this a very suspect 3rd pair on D and you have a disaster waiting to happen.

    All great teams have depth. We only have potential and a bunch of 4th liners.

  • Yup. The Howden hate starts quickly. I dont understand it really. Here is a kid who works his tail off every practice and every game. He played well towards the end of the season and in the playoffs and almost the first paragraph starts in on Howden, amazing!

    This is clearly a big year for him. He needs to step up his game to more of the guy we saw late in the season and the playoffs. I hope to see some more muscle on him as well as a better first step in is skating. That would go a long way in improving his game.

    The rest of the lineup is pretty accurate. I think there is a chance of Miller or Robertson to make it as one of the LDs too.

    • Yup. The Howden hate starts quickly. I dont understand it really. Here is a kid who works his tail off every practice and every game. He played well towards the end of the season and in the playoffs and almost the first paragraph starts in on Howden, amazing!

      Not implying the writer here is like this but in general on other sites specifically BSB: The world of PC snowflakes- always quick to just slam someone or something that truly do not know what they’re speaking about because they have no real-life experience in the subject matter, I am sick of it too Czech

      • AZgene4240

        The problem as I see it is they are force feeding the kid on us. He should have developed in the AHL, before putting so much pressure on him. He tries, but it’s not working very well!!!!!!!

        Management made a bad trade for Mac Truck, with the return being both Howden, and Hajek, and they are trying to justify it by playing the kid, who is over his head…………….

        Why is it when people question a player, it’s hate on them, that’s BS!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    • Howden has all the tools to be a good bottom 6 guy, I get that he hasn’t performed well in terms of the metrics but he’s going to exceed the low expectations many here have for him.

      • Yes Tanto, Howden does seem to have a lot of the tools. I don’t know about his hands though, but that is an open question. I have been perplexed why he has not played better, but, as others noted, he did look better at the end last season. Maybe he will put it together. Seems like a good, hardworking kid.

  • Under normal circumstances, we wouldn’t have been in playoffs last year. The deadline trade of Skjei confirmed that. During 3 game playin round, 2nd line did nothing. Fast got hurt, but I’d argue that on a good team there’s no way he’s top 6. Strome at 2C might get him some fluffy numbers if he plays with Panarin again, but he doesn’t make us a better team. I’m still not sold on Chytil’s ceiling being top 6. I think league on a whole is frozen until there’s a clearer picture of what kind of season there will be. Still plenty of teams that need to make moves to get cap compliant and also sign rfa’s. I think there’s still a chance Rangers make a notable trade to upgrade at center.

  • Howden hate? Maybe it’s harsh? But does he deserve any love? Yes, he works hard but the results in both the eye test and analytics show that it’s more fruitless than fruitful. Not all hardworking kids play good hockey.

    Maybe he’s a late bloomer but right now his hockey IQ might not be NHL quality. He always seems, to me, to be in the wrong place while defending and he gets knocked off the puck frequently. And he’s definitely not an adequate finisher around the goal. But he’s an athletic, decent skating former first round pick with some size that’s still young and yes, this is his make or break year IMO.

    • depends what your expectations are. if you thought he was going to be jack eichel. sure youll be disappointed. fact is he is around 20 points in each of his full seasons here. or the same as chytil. whats wrong with this place.

      • Points don’t tell the story in this instance. You’re talking about one player that is definitely in the conversation as the 2C and the other is definitely not.

        Comparing Chytil to Howden is way off especially when analyzing every offensive and defensive metric. Chytil exceeds Howden in almost every category and is visibly better than Howden.

        • id be the first to agree that chytil is on a different plane as a player. chytil even has a year on him. however this blog among others treats howden like hes some echl scrub.

  • First off, I agree with Matt R and I’d go further. Kevin Rooney is pretty much a lock at 4C. Not only is it not clear whether or not Howden is good enough to make the team, we saw last year that he fared better as a wing than as a center. So, barring injury or trade, the four centers are Zib, Strome, Chityl, and Rooney. Howden competes for a wing slot.

    The Rangers also have Colin Blackwell. Blackwell fared decently in Nashville last year and like diGuiseppi, split time in the AHL and NHL. They are the same age. My hunch – and it just a hunch – is a 4th line of Rooney centering Blackwell and Lemieux. Or maybe Blackwell and diGuiseppi to allow Lemieux to play third line.

    My read is a 14 forward competition with Kravtsov and Barron sidelined by bonus considerations and Khodorenko, Richards simply not good enough.

    Buch,Kreider,Panarin,Lemieux have earned four of the wing slots. Lafreniere surely will get the fifth slot. Leaving Kakko, Gauthier, Howden, Blackwell, diGuiseppi competing for the last three. Likely Kakko will improve or get cut enough slack to start (though the Kakko of last year was not good enough). With Lafreniere, Chityl and Kakko in the lineup, the Rangers will seek stability, not youth in the remaining slots.

    Gauthier makes the team only if he earns it. I’m guessing Howden is 13th forward and Gauthier is in Hartford.

    • Kravtsov isn’t in the running, at least not for the first half of the season. Gauthier isn’t going anywhere.

      • I disagree on Gauthier. Yes, he is talented without question. However, Carolina was willing to trade him for a defensemen they didn’t even need, so obviously they did not see a star in the making. We need to think in terms of the jury being still out here.

        I presume you agree with me concerning my four locks at wing – and also that Lafreniere and Kakko will make the team whether they earn it or not because they are presumed stars.

        So that only leaves openings for two wings and on an already very young team with kids like Kakko and Lafreniere learning the game, you absolutely do not want to pencil in an undeserving young player with good but unremarkable upside.

        Common sense IMO dictates choosing the best of Gauthier, Howden, diGuiseppi, Blackwell for the last two wing slots. Even if you think Gauthier has greater long term value, he can develop his game in Hartford if he does not make the Rangers.

        Now you may believe that there is simply no way that Gauthier can lose a competition with that undistinguished trio and that is not an unreasonable argument. However, my contention is that good management does at least allow that to be a competition and chooses the duo who will best help the Rangers in the short term.

        For the record, diGuiseppi and Blackwell are the best hitters and that gives them an edge for the fourth line role. Gauthier is viewed as highest upside and Howden is most trusted. Gauthier is clearly the player who can most benefit from time at Hartford since he is the only one we expect to improve.

  • In the 2nd half, Rangers have a chance for one of the better 4th lines in the NHL because it can go Lemieux/Howden/Kravtsov. All three are arguably 3rd line worthy but after a full KHL season they may want Vitaly to ease in.

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