Rangers fourth line battles appear to be set
One of the key battles heading into camp was on the Rangers fourth line. After four preseason games, some logic, and some reading between the lines of what Gerard Gallant has said, it appears that this battle is over. The Rangers went into camp with Kevin Rooney and Morgan Barron looking at that 4C role. Dryden Hunt, Julien Gauthier, Sammy Blais, Ryan Reaves, and Lauri Pajuniemi were all vying for wing spots. That is a lot of bodies for three spots, potentially five if the Rangers carry two spare forwards.
Heading to the AHL
Waivers plays a huge part in some of the Rangers decisions. Gallant said so himself, albeit indirectly, referring to Morgan Barron specifically. Barron and Pajuniemi both do not require waivers to go to the AHL. While both have been strong in the preseason and in camp, this is a numbers game. The Rangers won’t lose them. This is an easy decision.
There is an added benefit of having both play 20+ minutes a night in Hartford, preferably in all three situations. Pajuniemi likely won’t get penalty kill time, but he should be the primary trigger man on the powerplay. Barron is just all around solid, and time to adjust to the pro leagues is a good thing.
Fourth line roles
The remaining five players will likely stay in the NHL when camp breaks. Blais and Reaves were a given, and with the waivers/expansion draft situation, that made Rooney a given. This is likely your opening night fourth line, especially since the Rangers open at Washington.
Gauthier and Hunt, who have both been good in the preseason, will likely start as healthy scratches. But don’t look at this the wrong way. Both Hunt and Gauthier will get NHL games. When healthy, expect both to rotate with Reaves, although performance on the ice will –and should– drive who plays and when.
The big piece to remember is the injury factor. There is a tendency to play NHL 22 in our heads with lineups, and assume no one will get hurt. That is simply not reality. Expect Gauthier to get into the lineup immediately in the event of a top nine injury on RW. If the injury comes at LW, then expect Blais to move up, with Hunt sliding into the fourth line. This is where the depth factor comes into play.
Long term injuries are a tad different, because Pajuniemi and Barron may get their shots if all pieces fall into place for them. Forward depth certainly looks a lot better than defense depth, as all of the options available are better than the combination of Jarred Tinordi, Anthony Bitetto, and Libor Hajek. But we covered that already.
The Rangers fourth line battles may have been over before they even started. This does bode well for the depth of the team up front. The Rangers are certainly a team that can manage a few injuries or disappearances up front.