The lines aren’t set in stone yet, but here’s how the 2021-22 Blueshirts might look on the ice.
After narrowly failing to make the 2021 playoffs, the New York Rangers spent the offseason bolstering their bottom-six. They made several moves to add talent as well as physicality and grit to what was a relatively unremarkable group just a few months ago.
Even though the focus of the offseason was to transform the bottom-six, the Rangers’ top two lines will look a little different, as well. The Rangers’ top RW Pavel Buchnevich was traded to the St. Louis Blues in exchange for a draft pick and LW Sammy Blais.
They tried Alexis Lafrenière at RW during training camp, but that experiment was short-lived. Now, the Rangers will have Chris Kreider give RW a try to open the season.
The presumed idea was that if Kreider’s switch isn’t smooth and he has to move back to LW, the Rangers would promote Vitaly Kravtsov to become one of the team’s top-two RW along with Kaapo Kakko.
On Monday, however, it was announced that Kravtsov would begin the season with the Rangers’ AHL-affiliate, the Hartford Wolf Pack.
This came as a bit of a surprise to many, but it did make some sense since the Rangers didn’t want to send someone down who had to pass through waivers.
That made Kravtsov and fellow prospect Morgan Barron the best options for them. At least, that’s what the idea was.
When asked about it, head coach Gerard Gallant made it seem as though Kravtsov was beaten out of a roster spot. Kravtsov refused the demotion and will be suspended.
The Rangers have also given him permission to speak to other teams with regard to a trade. Of course, this could all blow over and Kravtsov could end up not only returning to the Rangers, but playing a significant role on the team.
But, for now, the Rangers are going to be operating as though Kravtsov isn’t a part of their plans.
So how will all this play out for the Rangers in their first season under Gallant?
According to Rangers reporter Vince Mercogliano of USA Today, the Rangers are expected to line up like this in Wednesday’s season-opener at the Washington Capitals, against whom they played some high-tension, physical games last season:
Alexis Lafrenière- Mika Zibanejad- Chris Kreider
Artemiy Panarin- Ryan Strome- Kaapo Kakko
Sammy Blais- Filip Chytil- Barclay Goodrow
Dryden Hunt- Kevin Rooney- Ryan Reaves
Ryan Lindgren-Adam Fox
K’Andre Miller-Jacob Trouba
Jarred Tinordi-Patrik Nemeth
It’s evident that they’re going into this game with the goal of making a statement.
They’re going big and physical- that’s clear with the inclusion of Hunt and Tinordi in the lineup, who aren’t expected to be regular fixtures night in and night out, at least not to begin the season.
The Rangers’ lines should look more like this going forward:
Let’s dissect. Now that Kravtsov’s future with the team is in doubt, there’s going to be a ton of pressure on the young Kakko as well as Kreider to succeed at RW.
After Buchnevich was dealt, Kakko was already heading into this season under pressure to break out. Now that the Rangers have practically no depth at RW, this is even more so the case.
They’re also desperately going to need Kreider to do well on the right, or else they’re going to have a serious problem.
The top line is definitely one to watch because of Kreider’s position-change as well as the fact that Lafrenière is going to have a lot on his plate as the team’s number one LW in just his second season.
The second line will be interesting, as well, because of Kakko’s situation, as we previously discussed. This is the best situation for him to be in, on the team’s highest scoring line that also features their best player, who’s the best at his position in the entire league.
Julien Gauthier as well as Hunt both outplayed Kravtsov in the eyes of Gallant and the coaching staff. Now that Kravtsov isn’t around, the two of them should see regular playing time, likely competing for a job as bottom-six wingers.
Blais, who hasn’t had the greatest NHL career thus far, was actually quite impressive during training camp and put up points. The question is, will he be able to carry that play into the regular season?
Blais’ situation is tricky because if he does become the team’s regular fourth-line LW, he might not be able to succeed as significantly. The first of his linemates is Rooney, who’s a mediocre defensive-forward, but does almost nothing offensively.
The other winger on that line is Reaves, who doesn’t bring anything to the table anymore that isn’t physicality and grit. It’s difficult to imagine Blais producing in that situation, so he will definitely be a player to monitor.
He surely will be a guy to watch on Wednesday, playing alongside much better linemates in Chytil and Goodrow.
We know what the Rangers are going to get in the Lindgren-Fox defensive pairing: an excellent all-around blueliner as well as the best defenseman in the NHL. The second pairing should be a little more interesting.
Miller held his own and showed glimpses of serious promise in his rookie season, but struggled down the stretch, especially after his partner Trouba’s season ended early. Can Miller take the next step in his sophomore season?
He’s going to have to, for his own sake, since the Rangers are stacked at the LHD position and have a line of kids ready to take over if Miller struggles. On the third defensive pairing, the Rangers upgraded tremendously.
Whoever plays there will be a new face, so they’re going to be very interesting to watch.
Nemeth, who has been one of the best defensive-defensemen in the NHL over the past few seasons, was one of the Rangers’ best moves this offseason and will improve the third pairing immensely.
He’ll open the season playing alongside Tinordi, who isn’t good offensively or defensively, but is huge and physical.
Nemeth will be a player to monitor as the regular linemate of his countryman, the young Nils Lundkvist, who will sit on Wednesday. This pairing should be a fun one to watch: they should get the job done defensively and generate points (thanks to Lundkvist).
These lines aren’t confirmed and we won’t know for sure until we see them, but the Rangers should line up in at least a very similar fashion.
There are multiple question marks surrounding several players and lines and there’s no guarantee that this is how the team will look for an extended period of time, but this lineup is certainly an upgrade to what the Rangers had just a few months ago.