Isn't this great? We can actually talk about real lineup combinations now that hockey is finally back. So let's dig into it here.
What could the New York Rangers lineup look like heading into the anticipated season opener? We'll break this down line by line, with potential line combinations, along with some other candidates that may got a shot or slot down throughout the season.
Rick Nash - Brad Richards - Marian Gaborik
We all anticipated this to be the top line heading into 2012-2013, and these three superstars will likely get the chance to play with each other right out the gate. It may not be a well oiled machine from the get go, as chemistry will take some time to development among the new threesome. Just look at how long it took Gaborik and Richards to finally click last season, it eventually did though. But this line has some serious fire power up front with elite goal scorers in Gaborik/Nash, and the great playmaking abilities from Richards.
Other Candidates: Chris Kreider, Ryan Callahan, Carl Hagelin
Chris Kreider - Derek Stepan - Ryan Callahan
This All-American/United line of youngsters has the potential be pretty lethal for the New York Rangers. Rookie sensation Chris Kreider will be coming into his first full season with the Rangers, after his red hot playoff performance which turned a lot of heads. Derek Stepan is coming off of a career year in assists, and points, meanwhile Ryan Callahan will get back to pounding the opposition behind their blue line. Sort of like the first line, Stepan and Kreider are more than capable of providing an offensive spark, while Callahan provides the energy and grit.
Other Candidates: Carl Hagelin, Rick Nash, Marian Gaborik
Taylor Pyatt - Brian Boyle - Carl Hagelin
Now we get to the energy line. The line that will pin you in your own end, and continuously cycle down low to tire out the opposition. These three are more than capable of doing that for the boys in blue. We've already seen last year how well Hagelin uses his speed to get the one up on the defenders, and how well Boyle shields the puck with his body. Now you add another one to the equation in Taylor Pyatt, and you have yourself one heck of puck possession line. As I said before, they won't score you goals on a consistent basis, but they will give you energy and momentum throughout each and every game.
Mike Rupp - Jeff Halpern - Arron Asham
This line may make you cringe at first glance, and I really can't blame you for that one, but there are still some positives to this line. Both Mike Rupp and Arron Asham were teammates back in Pittsburgh 2010-2011, and developed some pretty decent chemistry together. The Rangers also added move depth down the middle by signing Jeff Halpern this summer to lift the faceoff burden off of some other players. There was no doubt faceoffs were an obvious struggle for the Rangers in the playoffs, and cost them a few goals and scoring chances. Last season with the Capitals, Halpern's faceoff percentage hovered around 58.3% on a consistent basis. Pretty good if you ask me.
Other Candidates: Michael Haley, J.T. Miller, Chad Kolarik
Ryan McDonagh - Dan Girardi
Marc Staal - Anton Stralman
Michael Del Zotto* - Steve Eminger/Stu Bickel
This is basically what the defensive pairings looked like last year for the New York Rangers, and there's no reason to believe that they will change all that much, if at all. The first pairing of McDonagh and Girardi is a no brainer as the duo was easily the Rangers best defensemen night in, and night out, and logged tons of minutes. Marc Staal and Anton Stralman spent a majority of the playoffs together, and both made tremendous strides. Staal finally looked like pre-concussion Staal after he was questioned throughout the season, and Stralman who was originally a depth signing, earned himself a spot on the blue line.
Finally we have Michael Del Zotto, who currently remains without a contract since the lockout was put into effect on September 15th, 2012. The Rangers next plan is to get Del Zotto locked into a contract, which will likely pay him in the ballpark of $1.5 to $2.0 million. The Rangers also decided to bring back Steve Eminger and Stu Bickel on one-year deals to help add depth in the event of injuries or tough grinds throughout the season. Bickel didn't see much time in the playoffs as he was often benched by John Tortorella. Eminger appeared in four playoffs games for the Blueshirts last year, as he was injured near the end of the regular season, and was unable to return at an earlier date. Even though these guys didn't see much time throughout the year, they are more than capable of logging a decent amount of minutes to take the work load off of the top pairings.
There always have been and always will be a few dark horses that could potentially crack the lineup for the Rangers out of training camp, or be potential call ups later on in the season. For the Rangers, they have quite a few possibilities here. J.T. Miller, Chad Kolarik, and Matt Gilroy have a chance this season to see some NHL action with their parent club. Miller has been working on his game down in the AHL, and recently came away with a gold medal at the 2012 IIHF World Juniors where he served as an alternate captain. He would serve as a great depth player for the Rangers when the going gets tough throughout this condensed season.
As for Kolarik, he has been absolutely phenomenal for the Connecticut Whale this year, and is currently second on the team in points with 14 goals, and 14 assists in 34 games. After suffering a season ending ACL injury back in 2011, Kolarik finally returned to his pre-injury scoring form, and could give the Rangers some solid depth down the road, as the season grinds on.
Finally we have a familiar face with Matt Gilroy. The ex-Ranger signed an AHL contract with the Connecticut Whale during the lockout, and has been playing some decent hockey down there. Of course, the Rangers have a boat load of defensive depth as it is, but it's never a bad thing to have even more. Couldn't hurt to speculate right?