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