Bottom six additions add flexibility to Rangers lineup

sammy blais
ST. LOUIS, MO – FEBRUARY 6: Sammy Blais #9 of the St. Louis Blues in action against the Arizona Coyotes at Enterprise Center on February 6, 2021 at the Enterprise Center in St. Louis, Missouri. (Photo by Joe Puetz/NHLI via Getty Images)

As the dust settles from the offseason moves, one thing is clear. Chris Drury was on a mission to remake the Rangers bottom six, and he did just that. The Rangers added Barclay Goodrow, Ryan Reaves, Sammy Blais, and Dryden Hunt while subtracting Brett Howden and Colin Blackwell. The Pavel Buchnevich trade also means Kaapo Kakko and Alexis Lafreniere will be getting top-six minutes, likely along with Vitali Kravtsov.

As of today, the bottom six options appear to be a combination of that quartet above, plus Chris Kreider, Kevin Rooney, Morgan Barron, Filip Chytil, and Julien Gauthier. That’s nine players for six spots. Given injuries and COVID, depth is critical, but this also adds flexibility to the lineup. The Rangers will be able to dress certain players based on certain matchups, something they weren’t doing under David Quinn.

As an aside: I’m not talking about trades/contracts here. It is what it is now. At this point, let’s focus on the players and what they bring to the lineup. This includes your prototypical punching role, which I don’t necessarily like but it’s clear Drury does. Also, this post uses the lineup as of today, since I can’t predict an Eichel trade. 

The locks

Kreider, Chytil, and Goodrow are the locks to play every night, and likely represent your third line when the Rangers are fully healthy. If the top-six is all skill, then this third line has a ton of skill that also plays solid two-way hockey. Kreider is still a beast and a consistent 45-5o point player every season. Goodrow is a known asset that is fantastic defensively, a work horse, and has enough skill to chip in offensively. If Kreider is your net-front presence and rush threat, then Goodrow is your corners and grinder that gets to those areas and frees up space for Kreider and Chytil to work.

Chytil is your skilled center here that has good vision and skills. He’s still just 21, but he’s cemented a role as a middle-six center with room to grow. In terms of a dangerous and effective third line, Chytil’s presence is what makes them dangerous. Giving him the pair of skilled veterans will help round out his game and hopefully give him the confidence to take his game to the next level.

If the top six is all skill, then this third line represents that healthy balance of skill and defense needed to shut down the opposition.

Fourth line options

If we assume that trio is the third line, and it’s a fair assumption, then that leaves six guys for three fourth line spots. The Rangers protected Rooney for a reason, so he’s at least penciled in as the 4C. Defensively responsible, can chip in here and there, decent penalty killer. That’s his role.

Ryan Reaves has a role. Whether or not you agree with said role is a completely different story. Personally, I don’t think the typical face puncher isn’t needed. Reaves struggled mightily once Gallant left Vegas, but he did put up halfway decent possession numbers with Gallant. Reaves is 34 now, so whether or not he can repeat it is still unknown. However at least there is some hope for more than face punching.

It does seem that the Rangers are creating a competition between Blais and Gauthier for the 4RW spot, which honestly is fine. Both have positives, both have negatives. I’d prefer Gauthier since I like that specific skill set, but I haven’t seen much of Blais so I might be biased. Hey, at least I admit it. But their production is somewhat similar, and a little competition didn’t hurt anyone.

The wild cards here are Hunt and Barron. I am on record that I really like the Hunt signing, and I think he has the potential to steal a spot. At the very worst, he’s a solid 13/14F that can fill in well if the Rangers get decimated with injuries. Barron, if he’s still here, has shown he is likely ready for the next level. Whether or not that’s at center or wing remains to be seen. Given how the Rangers have doubled up their options at each position, my guess is they see him as a center.

Still a better team

By simply removing Brett Howden from the equation, the Rangers made themselves better. That’s the known. One thing that was lost in the complaining about the moves is that the Rangers retooled their bottom six into a flexible unit that has talent, plays two way hockey, and can throw a punch or two. This matters to the front office, and all but the punching matters to most hockey minds.

Flexibility and depth wins, and the Rangers at least have both in their bottom six now. Under Quinn, there were no roles and it was a set lineup. Now we will see different lineups for different teams. We will also see the ability to shift things around for an injury. That’s how winners are built. At least on paper.

Now it’s up to Gallant to get the most out of all of them.