What will the Rangers bottom 6 look like this season?
Last offseason, Chris Drury spoke about the importance of identifying the right players to fit particular roles on the roster. Having lines with set roles was something that was largely absent during the David Quinn era that was supposed to be rectified with the hiring of Gerard Gallant, specifically with the Rangers bottom 6.
While the Rangers certainly took a step forward in this area last season, there still needs to be more consistency with how players are deployed and what is expected of them. One area that I think will be vital in our pursuit of a Cup is how we define success for the Rangers bottom 6.
Last week, Shapiro spoke about the likely line combos for the top six. Unless there are some major surprises, you can pretty much count on Kreider, Zibanejad, Lafrenière, Panarin, Trocheck and either Kravtsov or Kakko rounding out the top two scoring lines. The Rangers bottom 6, however, could potentially have a variety of different looks depending on the lines’ respective roles.
Potential roles for third lines:
One of the most overlooked and important decisions a head coach can make is defining what their third line should be. Some coaches want their third line to be composed of grinders. This type of line usually features guys who can pop 30+ points, get in on the forecheck, and keep chances 50 / 50.
Other coaches use the third line to break young players into the NHL. They often try to match this line against another team’s bottom six and shelter them with offensive zone face-offs. This is how GG largely deployed the kid line last season with Lafrenière, Chytil, and Kakko for one-half of the Rangers bottom 6.
Finally, teams that are in their window to compete for Cups often use their third line to shutdown the other team’s top scorers via defensive zone draws and hard matchups. We saw this in the Tampa series where guys like Cirelli, Killorn, etc. blanketed Kreider and Zibanejad and effectively neutralized them.
Potential 3rd line for the Rangers:
I personally am a fan of having your 3rd line play a shut down role. After watching Lundqvist get 86’d from the playoffs for a decade, I do not want our postseasons to be the Igor Shesterkin show every year.
Crosby almost single-handedly ended our postseason run in the first round. Part of that is obviously because he’s Crosby. However, part of his success was because we were sending Reaves and Hunt out there to shut him down, which was a laughable tactic.
With that said, Chris Drury didn’t really pick up any elite defensive forwards in the offseason to augment the Rangers bottom 6. So from the look of the roster, my assumption is that our 3rd line will be some combination of grind and youth.
Barclay Goodrow certainly proved he can handle duties outside of the 4th line, putting up 33 points and averaging over 16 mins a game. While he can play any position, he’ll probably be best served on the left wing doing the dirty work for Chytil (C) and Kravtsov (RW) to fill out half of the Rangers bottom 6.
Potential 4th line for the Rangers:
Roles for the fourth line are usually predicated based on the depth of your roster and available cap space. Since the Rangers have neither, our 4th line will hopefully not be used as a shutdown line and will instead match against other teams’ bottom six.
This line will likely feature Blais (W), Carpenter (C), and either Hunt (W) or Reaves (W). Of these four, only Carpenter has ever been used in a shutdown capacity. The latter three are all forechecking or energy guys who have never cleared 20 points.
Naturally, this may be a bit of a problem for the Rangers bottom 6 against the better teams in the league.
Rangers Bottom 6 Wild Cards:
Gustav Rydahl (aged 27) was certainly an interesting signing. He’s coming over from Färjestad BK (Swedish League), where he played as a top 6 power forward and was seen as a late bloomer. He’s also supposedly a pest, so it will be interesting to see how he’s used, if he can hang.
To date, Kaapo Kakko has looked more like Jesper Fast than Patrik Laine or Aleksander Barkov did in their third seasons after coming over from Finland. I wonder how much rope Gallant will give him this season. If he continues to struggle getting shots off and Kravtsov shows some offense, I wonder if Kakko could form a formidable shutdown line with Chytil and Goodrow. This is the 3rd line I want, but probably won’t get.
They’re probably long shots at this point, but Will Cuylle (LW) and Brennan Othmann (LW) are the Rangers’ top two forward prospects, both of whom destroyed the OHL last season. Cuylle will likely head to the AHL this year, as he’s 20 years old.
Othmann will have to return to the OHL this season if he’s not added to the roster, as he will still be 19 on December 31st. However, both shouldn’t be automatically counted out. If we want to continue with a youth centric 3rd line, either could play here with Chytil to give the Rangers bottom 6 a potentially talented tertiary scoring line.
Obviously Gallant’s lineup will have a lot of permutations throughout the season. However, getting the roles right from the jump will be imperative towards building this team back to postseason glory.