With the Rangers offseason more or less in coasting mode, we are shifting from offseason mode in projecting lines and waiting for the last two big pieces to re-sign. Depending on who you talk to, there are differing opinions on how the lines will look, but it does seem the common theme is the Rangers need a winger to shift to right wing to balance out the lines. Naturally, only one or two players have had their names thrown out there as options.
Option 1: Chris Kreider
Chris Kreider is one of two players that seems to fit the bill to shift to left wing. He’s a seasoned veteran, he’s one of the smarter players on the team, and he’s said he’d be ok with a shift if needed. His skill set is pretty universal to either wing, so the transition for him shouldn’t be too difficult. Of course, that is in theory.
The good news is that Kreider’s speed and net-front presence skill set is again easily transferrable to the off-wing. There wouldn’t be much of a change in forechecking either, as Kreider is normally the first man in for either a 2-1-2 or 1-2-2, whichever new coach Peter Laviolette likes to run.
The challenge would be in the defensive zone, as Kreider would have to flip his coverage. His natural intelligence should make it an easier transition than for others, but there would still be some hiccups if he makes the transition. Another challenge would be the homerun pass that springs Kreider, but in theory coming down the off-wing makes that a bit easier and gives Kreider a better shooting angle.
Option 2: Artemi Panarin
Artemi Panarin has spent his entire career at LW and was never asked to shift to RW last season. This is a last resort option.
Option 3: Alexis Lafreniere
Alexis Lafreniere is the most logical player to make the shift to RW. When he made the shift last season and was playing with Panarin and Vincent Trocheck, he actually looked pretty good. In 157 minutes before Gallant blew up the lines and forever altered last year’s trajectory, the line put up solid offensive numbers:
- 58.46% shot share
- 50.48% xG share
- 55% scoring chance share
- 51% high danger scoring chance share
It’s a small sample size for sure, but it’s enough of a sample size to see if this is something that can work again next year with more structure and, hopefully, better puck movement on the blue line. Proper deployment (offensive zone starts) would be a critical success factor here, as this line wasn’t overly great defensively, and that’s fine.
As a plus, this leaves the equally impressive Kreider-Zibanejad-Kakko line intact, and that line doesn’t need sheltered offensive zone starts.
The stats look good, but the player is the important piece. Many have soured on Lafreniere because of his questionable off-ice training approach. That aside, he does have the right skill set to shift. He’s very skilled, gets to the net, and believe it or not, does some of the dirty work on that line.
At just 22 years old when the season starts, now would be the time to shift him to RW. It makes more sense to do this now, before he develops habits and routines on LW. While Kreider is the type of player that can make the shift later in his career, Lafreniere hasn’t shown this. It’s best to get it done now so he can develop into a top winger that can play either side. But that’s just one opinion.
Given Laviolette uses analytics a bit more routinely than other coaches, this may be the first option he goes with. It may not work long term, but so far this trio deserves another shot.
If not, then Kreider can make the shift and still balance out the lines.
Either way you slice it, the Rangers need one LW to make the shift to the off-wing for next season, lest we find ourselves in the same situation at next year’s trade deadline.