The Rangers appear to be done with their major moves, aside from re-signing Kaapo Kakko. Thus, we are now in “create your lineup” mode of the Rangers offseason. The biggest questions are with the Rangers top 6, as only four of the roles appear set. Depending on who you ask, the Rangers will have different kids in different positions on their top two lines.
What we do know is that Chris Kreider, Artemiy Panarin, Mika Zibanejad and Vincent Trocheck will be in the Rangers top 6. Trocheck is the only player that some may think will be lower in the lineup, but you don’t give that kind of contract to Trocheck if he’s going to be on the third line.
It’s more than likely that Kreider and Zibanejad will be together on the first line, with Panarin and Trocheck together on the second line. Kreider and Zibanejad obviously have chemistry, and it makes logical sense that Trocheck will simply replace Strome as Panarin’s center.
There are questions about Panarin’s style and how it will mesh with Trocheck’s style. Strome was more of a finesse center for Panarin, who distracted the defense and gave Panarin room to maneuver. The duo loved Jesper Fast as their winger to do the dirty work along the boards and in front. Trocheck fills both the dirty work role and the center role.
But with both lines, there are questions about right wing. Neither line has one right now, and there are many options to fill out the Rangers top 6.
Alexis Lafreniere. Kaapo Kakko. Vitali Kravtsov.
Depending on who you ask, the Rangers will have these guys in varying positions throughout the lineup. If we are to take Gerard Gallant at his word, then Lafreniere will be back with Kreider and Zibanejad. This trio played 260 minutes together last season, mostly through the first month of the season, and had some pretty solid results. They had a 53.86% expected-goals share and a 50.76 CF%, per Natural Stat Trick. This suggests they are good at controlling play, but quality and quantity.
That would leave Kakko to fill out the Rangers top 6 with Panarin and Trocheck. We don’t have numbers on Trocheck with them, obviously, but Kakko and Panarin did have 192 minutes together throughout last season. Their numbers aren’t as good as the first line, but they are good enough, with a 49.49% expected goals share and a 48.18 CF%. They also carried a 72% goals-for rate, which suggests they were at least good at burying their chances with their roughly 50/50 split in possession.
Trocheck adds a skill set that this line didn’t have, which in theory will help drive some of their possession numbers. Trocheck adds that Jesper Fast type skill, plus he wins faceoffs. Again in theory, both of these skills help the Rangers second line be less one-and-done and better able to establish sustained pressure.
But this discounts Kravtsov, who will get a shot in the Rangers top 6. Kravtsov has a style similar to Lafreniere, where he is capable of controlling the play. He is also good along the boards and maintaining puck possession. So there is a natural fit with Panarin, in addition to the Russian connection.
Depending on how things shake out in the Rangers top 6, the third line will be impacted. In fact, we may actually get Kakko and Kravtsov in the Rangers top 6. It’s unlikely, but it may happen. That leaves Lafreniere-Chytil-Blais as the most likely third line, which did have 49 minutes together before Blais’ season ended. That trio put up a 51.57% expected goals share and a 47.87 CF%, which will certainly hold its own.
However it is more likely that the Rangers start the season with Kravtsov on the third line, possibly shifting Blais to the left wing on the third line. Or possibly with Barclay Goodrow.
Gallant loves to keep his lines together, so we will likely see an extended look of whichever combinations look best in the preseason. The Rangers top 6 has a lot of potential to make this team a dangerous offensive team. That’s at the higher end of the spectrum. The more likely scenario is the Rangers wind up as a league average offense with above average defense and elite goaltending.
That’s all the Rangers need to make another run.