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!).