We've finally reached the point where we can start discussing line combinations with the certainty of Rick Nash's presence. We're going to have to do this pre and post-Marian Gaborik, since his return will obviously impact the lineup. Since the New York Rangers will be without him to start the year, we'll start there.
Nash and Brad Richards seem like a lock to sit on the first line to start the year, especially without Gaborik. Richards would benefit greatly from having a player like Nash in front of and around the net, and Nash would benefit from the elite vision and passing from Richards.
Join me after the jump.
Before we get into who would play on the first line in Gaborik's place, let's take a look at the team's current top six without Gaborik: Nash, Richards, Chris Kreider, Derek Stepan, Ryan Callahan and Carl Hagelin. Nash and Richards are locked on the first line, but who should join them?
Kreider played on the first line a little in the playoffs, but I'm not sure if John Tortorella wants to give him that much responsibility to kick off the season. Remember, Kreider's biggest stepping stone last year was learning how to pace himself through an NHL game. That's a learning process that will continue as he goes through his first 82-game season.
Plus, the Callahan - Stepan - Kreider line worked well in the playoffs and did develop some chemistry. Their skills work well together, their styles mesh and Kreider and Stepan have been together since the World Juniors.
That leaves Hagelin, who did play on the first line for most of his time with the big club. His skills worked well with Gaborik (in the end, everyone's skills will work well with a pass-first center, so Richards is a given), but will they work well with Nash? Gaborik and Nash are both snipers, but their game is a little different. Gaborik's game focuses around speed, agility, elusiveness and creating space where there doesn't seem to be any. Hagelin -- the fastest player on the team not named Chris Kreider -- was able to move to other areas of the ice to get his chances because of other team's focusing on Gaborik.
Nash is a bigger, stronger sniper. He's fast, but uses his size to protect the puck, takes contact to get to the net, works in the corners and can force himself into space that might not have been there. Nash loves the net -- another asset he brings to the table that the Rangers needed -- he loves getting bumped, he loves working in the tough areas of the ice. It remains to be seen if Hagelin can mesh with the style of play.
I also refuse to buy the fact that the bottom six is significantly depleted. Jeff Halpern, Brian Boyle and Taylor Pyatt make a fine third line (although I do expect Halpern to drop if the Rangers bring in another bottom-six player). Arron Asham and Mike Rupp would be on the fourth line.
The third line would pretty obviously be the tough-minutes line, with Boyle playing that role for much of last year anyway. Once Gaborik returns then Hagelin would get dropped to the third line and everything would start to even itself out.
We'll look into what the lines will become with Gaborik later on, but for now, thoughts?