Rangers trade Ryan Reaves to Minnesota.

With all the talk on the top six and third line, the fourth line is often an after thought. But that shouldn’t be the case for a playoff team. The Rangers fourth line needs to be good enough for the Rangers to have the lineup length to compete with the Tampa’s and the Carolina’s of the world. But is the Rangers fourth line good enough to do this?

To truly evaluate this, we need to first realize that the current iteration of the fourth line, with Greg McKegg, Kevin Rooney, and Ryan Reaves, is not what a fully healthy Rangers team will have on its fourth line. We also need to understand what the fourth line’s role is. Are they simply there to eat minutes and survive? Or are they expected to be a shutdown line? Should they be chipping in on offense? These are the pieces we need to evaluate to see if the Rangers fourth line is good enough.

As currently constructed, the fourth line when healthy is likely Dryden Hunt/Barclay Goodrow-Rooney-Reaves. Per Natural Stat Trick’s line tool, the best iteration of that quartet, speaking only in on-ice production, is Hunt-Rooney-Goodrow, but that’s in just 18:18 TOI (2 games, give or take). Not much of a sample size. The best duo is Hunt-Rooney, with an expected-goals share of 56%, but again limited minutes together (23 mins). Interestingly enough, only three combos have more than 100 mins together:

  1. Hunt-Rooney-Reaves (98 mins, 42% xGF)
  2. Goodrow-Rooney-Reaves (112 mins, 30% xGF)
  3. Rooney-McKegg-Reaves (114 mins, 36% xGF)

None of these are overly impressive. Again, speaking strictly from an on-ice perspective. These are also full season numbers, so recent play/trends are not evaluated here. It’s not a full picture. But I do think it’s enough information to know that the Rangers do need a bit of an upgrade.

Post trade deadline

The current roster won’t be what we see in the playoffs. Kaapo Kakko will be back, pushing someone out of the lineup. Perhaps Morgan Barron sticks as well. That should eliminate Greg McKegg from the equation. The second player that takes out is either Julien Gauthier or one of Reaves/Hunt. Remember, Gerard Gallant did scratch Reaves in the playoffs with Vegas. Not advocating for it, just stating facts.

The Rangers are also likely to add at least one middle six forward and potentially one bottom six forward. They’ve been connected to almost everyone, but Ryan Carpenter’s name keeps coming up. Let’s say, for argument’s sake, the Rangers get both. Let’s play this out logically.

Panarin-Strome-Kakko/deadline acquisition

Assuming this all happens the way we think it might, this is likely what we are looking at post-deadline. We have zero information to know whether or not that Rangers fourth line is good enough. But on paper, it looks like a significant upgrade, no?

This is not to advocate for scratching any player. It’s about building the best possible lineup and then seeing the fallout down the roster. If the Rangers do acquire two forwards, then when Kakko comes back, three forwards in the lineup need to come out. Four if you include Barron. There just isn’t enough roster space.

Matchup flexibility

What these acquisitions will do for the Rangers is build lineup flexibility. It’s safe to assume Goodrow won’t come out of the lineup, but the other two spots likely will be swapped out. Need muscle? Reaves is ready. Need some skill and speed? Rooney and Hunt are ready. Need to length scoring and puck possession? Gauthier is your man.

Beyond just individual players, it gives Gallant the flexibility to build a fourth line that has a defined role beyond just eating minutes. Stanley Cup winners get something out of their fourth line beyond just minutes. They are a shutdown line, they are a scoring line, they are something. If the Rangers do get a third line that can score, then given what we’ve seen with Gallant, he will want a true shutdown line.

In the above scenario, that shutdown line is likely Goodrow-Carpenter-Rooney/Hunt. Just my guess. That is likely a Rangers fourth line that is good enough.