The New York Rangers took care of their final piece of business Thursday afternoon, finally inking RFA Derek Stepan to a two-year, $6.15-million contract. That move, along with four more cuts, has helped put the New York Rangers opening season roster into focus.
Well, unless you're a center.
It's not so much who is and who isn't going to make the team. I think it's pretty clear Stepan, Derick Brassard, Brad Richards, Brian Boyle and Dominic Moore are going to make the team. You can certianly throw J.T. Miller into the "very good chance" pile when it comes to the prospects, too.
I'm not so much going to focus on Miller, Boyle or Moore, since one or two of them can easily be moved to the wing if needed. My guess is we might see Miller on the wing with Moore and Boyle swapping at center depending on the circumstances. It's clear, however, both Moore and Boyle have places on this team.
The real question comes when you look at the depth chart. Who is the Rangers top center? Before the preseason I would have guessed Stepan or Brassard, but to this point Alain Vigneault has put Richards on the top line between Rick Nash and Chris Kreider. Then he's had Brassard on the second line between Benoit Pouliot and Mats Zuccarello.
To this point, the third line has been a "kids" line, seeing players such as Danny Kristo, Jesper Fast, Marek Hrivik and Oscar Lindberg slotting in.
Most of that was due to the Rangers brass wanting to get a look at the kids trying to make the team. But some of it was due to the fact that Stepan wasn't around to fill up a roster spot. What happens now?
I still maintain Stepan or Brassard should be the top line center. Regardless of which Richards the Rangers get, I think he'll have better matchups on the third line and shouldn't beat out Brassard or Stepan for the top two slots. I'm not the coach, however, and Vigneault is known to be a matchup master, so it will be interesting to see what happens now.
Some questions have been answered. Or, the important ones at least. Stepan is back, that's far more important than where he slots in the lineup.
But that's going to be an interesting question, too.