Thoughts on the Rangers opening night lines

After ten months of, for all intents and purposes, no hockey, the 2021 NHL season is upon us. While the NY Rangers opening night lines aren’t confirmed, we have an idea of what it will look like. The lineup looks similar to last year’s lineup, with the major change being K’Andre Miller breaking camp. As per usual, I have some thoughts.

1. The top-nine was never really in doubt. In fact, the only question was whether or not Julien Gauthier would start on the third line. It looks like he will. This makes sense, since he’s a kid the Rangers will want to have a good start to the season. Putting him with Filip Chytil and Alexis Lafreniere in sheltered minutes is a good idea. This puts him in a position to succeed.

2. The fourth line is the only real remaining battle. We know who was waived, so the competition is down to a select few. It looks like Phil Di Giuseppe and Brett Howden have the opening night start. But Morgan Barron appears to be the first that might unseat them. Howden has had a very strong camp, and he’s someone the Rangers will look to for stability on that fourth line. He’s been atrocious for two years, but a strong camp and better matchups might do him some good.

3. There may be concerns about Brendan Lemieux on the fourth line, but that’s the best spot for him. For those who remember the fourth lines in 2012-2015, it was critical to have good players on the fourth line. When Boyle-Moore-Dorsett/Carcillo became the Rangers’ fourth line, not the third line, they became true contenders. Lemieux on the fourth line is a start to recreating that impactful fourth line. It also means the Rangers have three true scoring lines, another must have.

4. The big news is K’Andre Miller breaking camp and starting with Jacob Trouba on the top pair. Miller has been the best defenseman in camp. While I thought he might get some AHL time due to the short camp, clearly he’s ready. Miller-Lindgren-Johnson is one of the better scenarios to break camp. It was much better than the original Lindgren-Johnson-Smith projections.

5. Miller breaking camp means Tony DeAngelo can stay on the right side on the third pair. He dragged around the corpse of Marc Staal last year to great success. This year he gets to drag around the corpse of Jack Johnson tied to a boulder. Perhaps Johnson finds better success with DeAngelo in sheltered minutes. Asking him to simply tread water doesn’t seem like much to ask. It seems harsh, but that’s what it has come to over the past few seasons for Johnson. Hopefully we are wrong.

6. Don’t get me wrong, there is likely value in having someone like Johnson in the locker room. However on the ice, there’s no real argument to say that someone like Brendan Smith isn’t better in that role. There’s a reason why it’s Johnson though.

7. Lucky number seven is perhaps the most important point. The Rangers opening night lines are not going to be what we see on the last day of the season. Things will change. Injuries will happen. COVID will happen. But the big thing is that kids, both on the roster and in the AHL, may force changes. This is what we want to see. We want to see kids forcing changes.

8. A lot needs to go right for the Rangers to be playoff contenders this year. Miller making the team is the first one. But that’s another post for another day (teaser alert!).

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  • Let’s go Rangers! I for one am expecting them to at least make the playoffs this year. I don’t why the expectations are so low for this team.

  • Smith > JJ … but I wasn’t at camp to see how either actually played. Other than that, no surprises.

  • Ranger management kept preaching “we need to be tougher to play against” if this is the lineup, I don’t get it (Deguisseppe over Rooney and JJ over Smith)
    Johnston and Martin will run all over the place on Thursday.At least Smith and Rooney will try to stop it..
    Just my take!!

    • The Rangers have no one on the roster who can answer to Johnston or Martin.

      This Ranger team is loaded with high end talent.

      The one glaring deficiency is toughness.

      Tampa addressed it and won the cup.

      I am surprised JD didn’t address it.

      8 games vs Islanders…not good.

      There were a few guys who were waived that would have been useful adds but they all cleared.

      If you allow Martin and/or Johnston to skate around plastering Laffy and Kappo and Fox and all the talent without them having to answer for it…very demoralizing to players knowing they will get lit up and no one on our side to lit up their side.

      That is why they will improve some this year but won’t go very far.

          • I would not be far off in saying “as early as 2 years” for that playoff run (we can only hope!)

        • Schneider might be with the NHL sooner than later- JD and Gorton want to see Schneider and Robertson take full time spots on the blueline by the start of next season. Schneider’s game already has a very good gap control, his stick work is good, already is a big kid who plays with an edge, can defend against zone entries, really stepped up his offensive game last season in the WHL. The looming question is when is Nils Lundqvist coming over???? Rangers have four really impressive blueline prospects ( Schneider, Robertson, Lundqvist, and Jones), one might very well be moved ( not Schneider and Rangers love Nils in a deal to being in a center man.

      • Excellent post, JjB!

        The only one who I can see who constantly can drop the gloves (and win fights –watch some YouTube of him) is Bitetto (and we know where he’ll be playing, for the most part: Nowhere!)
        I wish Carcillo was still around –toughness with some skill, as we all had witnessed. He definitely made an impact (in more ways than one) when he was on the ice.

        Avery…Prust – those were the days. 🙂

    • The B2B against the Isles will provide a solid alternative theory of JJ/ADA and ADA/Smitty both on their off hands(which might generate a lot more offence than the 3rd pair normally would.)

    • I’m surprised at the thumbs down. In every interview, blog etc everyone from top to bottom has said we needed to be tougher. (Did we)?
      It’s basically the same team as last year or maybe worse.. JJ for Staal, Rooney,DeGuiseppe over Fast..
      JD and crew never really addressed it. Now DQ looks like he is going to start the season with JJ and P Deg in the lineup.
      To me that’s less toughness, not more!

      • We will see some changes come near the trading deadline. 12 mil. in buyout money this year, next year, that # goes down to 4.5 million, and Smith’s contract is off the books. Most likely Strome and DeAngelo will not be with the Rangers next season.

    • I won’t challenge your basic premise, but the examples are not good IMO. JJ was one of top hitters in the league last year, so JJ>Smith is perhaps more in line with your thinking than the reverse. And diG was actually one of the better Ranger hitters last year – he wasn’t Rooney mind you, but there are others one might jettison first.

      A big issue here is that kids like Chityl, Kakko, Gauthier don’t hit at all and the result may be the team that Mike Keenan dreaded – goons and dancers. It may be that these kids will evolve (who expected MDZ to be so physical?), but if they don’t, the Rangers can’t afford to keep all of them.

  • I only see Baron breaking the lineup if PDG has a bad few games. Howden and Lemieux are going to stay in the lineup if they are healthy. I think these 4 guys, if DQ goes with the hot hand, can be a pretty tenacious line.

    Putting Tony D on the 3rd pair will show us if his partner can play defense by himself.

  • 4. “Miller has been the best defenseman in camp”.

    We must be aware however that camp means different things to different players. To established players, camp is often just a matter of getting in shape mentally and physically for the coming season. Some like Fox may be learning new aspecs of the game. By and large, they are not trying to impress and so the best looking player is often synonomous with best looking rookie.

    However, there is real hope that his struggles at Wisconsin – part of larger team struggles – were a sign of trouble in Tony Granato’s program and not a reflection on him.

    5. DeAngelo did not drag Staal around last year. Staal covered for DeAngelo’s defensive weaknesses and allowed the team to benefit from Tony’s offensive prowess without paying a huge price. We can argue about how well Staal did his job but the nature of his job was that Tony did not help much (except as a recipient of passes when Marc wanted to clear the zone). Johnson will play that role this year – at least at first – and he will rise or fall on his own without much help from Tony.

    7 “This is what we want to see. We want to see kids forcing changes.”

    This is what I want to see, but this is not what most at BSB want to see. Most here think the kids should play without having to earn it, the principle being that having potential somehow entitles you to a slot.


    And my own thoughts, it would be nice if Kakko put it together but I do hope that if he does not, DQ either goes with Lemieux or Rooney – or forces Lafreniere into the top six.

  • With this years alignment and playing each teams in our division 8 times, the requirement for “grit” will be more evident than in the recent past.
    I hope they keep these divisional alignment permanently.
    There will be no better test for playoff hockey than seeing the same team 8 times in a season.
    I like this format, and I like it a lot. Now, even a team that doesn’t match up talent wise will be a challenge……… because they see each other 8 times. In hockey ‘familiarity breeds contempt’.
    Not showing up for a game will mean more than it did before. You listening CK?
    Carolina exposed us as soft and not built as a playoff ready team.
    Smith may be much more valuable to this team than some of us give him credit for.
    This will be an extremely entertaining 56 game season!

  • Like everyone else, I am excited to finally have hockey back!

    As far as the projected team on the ice, it is very much like many of us thought, with the exception of K’Andre Miller making the team. I sincerely hope that the kid is not being rushed, because he is obviously a physical talent who would greatly benefit the team if he succeeds. So I am rooting for the kid to do well.

    I’d like to see Smith on the 3rd pair. I think he is better than he is usually viewed. JJ might be a physical presence but I remember him be woefully slow. Let’s hope that he finds his legs!

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