Predicting New York Rangers’ Lines For Opening Night
Predicting New York Rangers' Lines For Start Of Season
The New York Rangers may not have a record that reflects it (1-4), but the team has looked very solid this preseason as they prepare for the games that actually count. The Rangers open up their regular season next Thursday in Glendale, Arizona vs. Phoenix Coyotes and with their final preseason game tonight vs. Los Angeles Kings, it’s time to start taking a look at the potential lines for their first game.
Yesterday, the Rangers and Derek Stepan ended their long contract dispute, which all but assures that the star center will be in the lineup. Other key contributors like Ryan Callahan and Carl Hagelin will not be ready to go on opening night as they continue to get healthy. Callahan was recently cleared for contact but when asked if he might be able to play vs. the Coyotes, head coach Alain Vigneault simply said “No.”
There were some young prospects that the Rangers have high hopes for who got a long look this preseason. Guys like Oscar Lindberg, Jesper Fast, Danny Kristo and Marek Hrivik were all vying for an opportunity to replace the injured Hagelin and Callahan, but may come up just a bit short of making the NHL roster.
Others were veterans such as Darroll Powe, Arron Asham and Taylor Pyatt who wanted to make sure none of the kids took their jobs. Are they going to be able to hold off the young guns? Who is going to be paired with who? Here are my predictions.
Martin Burns covers the New York Rangers for Rant Sports. Follow him on Twitter!
First Line Offense
Chris Kreider-Derek Stepan-Rick Nash
When Stepan is healthy, he is the Rangers' best center. Regardless of missing the entire preseason, Stepan gives the team their best playmaking forward and as such, he should expect to get top line minutes in the season opener.
Flanking Stepan, I see Nash and Kreider. Nash is the team’s top goal-scoring threat and Kreider, although some have been disappointed in his performance this preseason, is a young kid who may just need to be on a line with top talent in order to get going.
Second Line Offense
Benoit Pouliot-Derick Brassard-JT Miller
In my opinion, Brassard ranks just behind Stepan as the Rangers' best center. He and Pouliot have both shown good chemistry this preseason, and leaving them on a line together should continue to create scoring chances.
On the other wing, Miller could really have a strong impact on this line. His quick decision-making and grind-it-out mentality could bring a strong balance here.
Third Line Offense
Brian Boyle-Brad Richards-Mats Zuccarello
Zuccarello’s skill really puts him as more of a second-line player, but the Rangers desperately need Richards to regain his form as one of the top centers in the NHL. Putting Zuccarello on a line with him could benefit Richards, who referred to Zuccarello as a “Martin St. Louis type of player” the other day. St. Louis was Richards' linemate with Tampa Bay Lightning when they won the Stanley Cup.
Boyle is forced to move to the wing due to the depth at center on the roster, but he can have an impact with this line if he can get the forecheck going to open up the offensive zone for Richards and Zuccarello.
Fourth Line Offense
Darroll Powe-Dominic Moore-Derek Dorsett
The fourth line should be a solid checking line for the Rangers. Dorsett brings a strong forecheck and enforcer’s mentality while Powe and Moore are both above-average penalty killers. Moore is also a fantastic voice in the locker room and bring a strong leadership ability to the roster.
First Pair Defense
Ryan McDonagh-Dan Girardi
The first line of defense for Henrik Lundqvist, McDonagh and Girardi have been arguably the best defensive pairing in hockey over the last two seasons. Both shut down defenders will look to continue their success as well as improve their offensive ability this season.
Second Pair Defense
Marc Staal-Michael Del Zotto
Staal is returning from an eye injury that cost him the better half of a season last year, but has looked like the All-Star defenseman Rangers fans are used to seeing so far this preseason. Staal is a crease-clearing defenseman with some offensive upside, whereas Del Zotto is more of an attacking defender who lacks the size to be a true rock on the defensive end. These two make for a balanced pairing with Staal backing up Del Zotto, allowing him to create scoring chances deep in the offensive zone.
Third Pair Defense
Anton Stralman-John Moore
The Rangers should consider themselves lucky to have Moore and Stralman as their final pairing on defense. Stralman has proven over the past two seasons that he deserves his spot as a top-six defenseman in the NHL, and Moore continues to improve with each game. The two of them round out a very formidable defensive unit for the Blueshirts.
Cam Talbot made a push for the backup job, but Biron was able to hold onto it for now. Biron has became a very reliable second option for the Rangers whenever Lundqvist needs the night off.
As for Hank, expect him to continue his reign as King.
The three reserves round out the final roster to start the season for the Blueshirts. The young prospects are better served getting playing time in the AHL as opposed to being scratched from the lineup and not skating.