Thoughts on the first cut of the Rangers lines

alexis lafreniere ranger buffalo sabres

After two days of training camp, the only thing we know for certain is that the Rangers will have a lineup with at least 18 skaters and two goalies. There’s obviously an idea of which players will make the opening night roster, but how the lineup shakes out is still a relative unknown. But after two days of camp, we’ve seen new coach Gerard Gallant’s first cut of the Rangers lines, and quite frankly, they are as close to the best case scenario as you can get.

Kreider-Zibanejad-Lafreniere

With the Pavel Buchnevich trade, the Rangers needed to put someone on the 1RW spot on the KZB line. It makes sense that #1 overall pick Alexis Lafreniere will be that guy who gets the first look. He may be on his off-wing, but if anything that makes him more dangerous in the offensive zone. It opens his vision up to the center of the ice and creates an additional one-timer from that side.

If Mika Zibanejad is going to be the primary shooter, then it will be on Chris Kreider to do some dirty work and get to the front of the net, which he does well. Lafreniere will be tasked with drawing attention and making his own plays, something he’s more than capable of doing. This, in turn, opens up ice for Zibanejad and that ridiculous shot. With Kreider, the league’s best net-front presence, this line has serious potential.

The complaint many have is that Zibanejad does not necessarily drive play (which is certainly a cause for concern in a long term contract extension). Kreider and Laf take care of that, and to be honest, Zibanejad isn’t the black hole that is Patrik Laine, to whom he’s been compared. You need finishers in addition to play drivers. Roles and balance matter. Would it be better if Zibanejad drove play? Absolutely. Is it something that will doom the top line? Nope.

Panarin-Strome-Kakko

Keeping Artemi Panarin and Ryan Strome together makes perfect sense. Getting the #2 overall pick in Kaapo Kakko on that line on a consistent basis is the only logical step for him after a stellar defensive season. Kakko has all the skills to be a major offensive producer, and he can do the dirty work on this line that Colin Blackwell did, just significantly more effectively.

Say what you will about Strome, the guy has simply produced both with and without Panarin. When it comes to the 2C role, that’s what you want. Someone who gels with your best player, who also produces in his own right.

Goodrow-Chytil-Kravtsov

A good comparison was made in the BSB chat the other day. The Barclay Goodrow-Filip Chytil-Vitali Kravtsov line is big, heavy, and skilled. They have great at least two two-way players, and all three can skate, score, and get in on the forecheck. It is very similar to the Goodrow-Yanni Gourde-Blake Coleman line in Tampa.

That may be a stretch, but it is certainly a very similar skill set for all three skaters. Plus you can certainly make the argument that both Chytil and Kravtsov have more offensive ceiling than Gourde and Coleman.

This is the kind of third line depth that wins championships, as we’ve seen.

Blais-Rooney-Reaves

This is the line that drew the most criticism on Twitter. Let’s get the obvious out of the way: Both Sammy Blais and Ryan Reaves will play hockey for the Rangers this season. It is quite possible they get 60+ games each. It is also possible that while we don’t necessarily have high expectations, they may be a decent fourth line.

The metrics for all three show different strengths on the ice, while their prior roles show they are being deployed in the same manner they’ve played most of their careers.  However don’t discount Dryden Hunt, he plays both wings and can easily sub in for Blais or Reaves. There’s also Julien Gauthier sniffing around. Ditto Morgan Barron as a center.

The reality of the situation is that we will see all six players on the fourth line at any given point in the season. I also don’t think enough people are factoring in how bad the fourth line was last year, and how removing one player really swings the pendulum the other direction.

Final Thoughts

It is very difficult to make a credible argument that these lines make the Rangers worse than last year. There’s balance, depth, and an actual useful fourth line. That itself is worth extra points in the standings. But these aren’t the final lines.

As mentioned, we will see a rotation of players on the fourth line. Expect Goodrow to get time in the top six. Expect Kakko or Kravtsov to be dropped in the lineup. This is how it goes in the NHL. We likely won’t see a set, or preferred, lineup until November or December.