Who will play left wing for the first line? Where will Mike Rupp fit? Will Carl Hagelin make the team? Should Michael Del Zotto make the team? Should the Rangers give playing time to Steve Eminger? All of these questions are burning topics in the Rangerverse. (I like to make up words)
The first line is semi-set. The third line is a mystery, and while some are assuming the fourth line will be Fedotenko-Boyle-Prust, there is no way of knowing yet.
What seems like a sure thing, though, is the second line. Ah, the second line, the favorite of many Rangers fans. Brandon Dubinsky as the left winger, Artem Anisimov skating up the middle, and the gritty, gutty, possible future captain Ryan Callahan handling right wing.
Dubinsky totaled a career-high 24 goals and a career-high 30 assists last season. Anisimov finally broke out and also reached career highs in goals and assists. Callahan? Career highs in goals and assists.
The chemistry between the three was unflappable, as the line became the heart of the team, while also producing points in clutch situations. The line seemed like they had played together for years.
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All of that being said, this year is even more important.
With Brad Richards serving as an improvement for the first line, the second line can likely stay together for the whole season. From the start of preseason, Dubinsky, Anisimov and Callahan need to work to regain the chemistry they had last season.
If the Rangers can figure out who is playing left wing for the first line, and the second line does not falter, that is two high caliber lines. Mixing and matching the third and fourth lines will be easier, and with Henrik Lundqvist in net, and Girardi, Staal, McDonaugh, and Sauer as sure things on defense, the Rangers suddenly look like a scary team.
If the second line falls apart, I fear the whole team will fall apart. John Tortorella will need to mix and match every line again, and come playoff time (if the Rangers make it) the lines won't have the same chemistry as if they had played together for most of the season.
So, I don't look at Marian Gaborik as the key to the season. Wotjek Wolski? Nah. Brad Richards? Important, but no. The three folks that mean the most this season are Brandon Dubinsky, Artem Anisimov, and Ryan Callahan.