Well, it took a little while to get here but a new NHL season is finally upon us. Sure there’s still a raging pandemic to worry about leading to a whole bunch of logistical changes, including brand new divisions and a shortened season, but hey, hockey! Anyway, there’s been some changes to our beloved New York Rangers since we last saw them get swept out of the Toronto bubble back by the Carolina Hurricanes back in May, so now is a perfect time to take a look at what the team looks like up front and re-introduce the team to you line by line.
To remind you of what the forward corps looked like as the team broke camp, let’s get some help from our friends at Charting Hockey.
Well, that’s a lot of red. The Rangers forward corps is features a lot of familiar faces while at the same time containing a bunch of very exciting question marks. Let’s take it line by line, shall we?
Line 1: Chris Kreider-Mika Zibanejad-Pavel Buchnevich
Everyone’s favorite bromance/top line returns for the Rangers as the trio of Chris Kreider, Mika Zibanejad, and Pavel Buchnevich once again look to drive the Rangers’ offense. Last season, the trio played almost 284 minutes together last season (41 games) and put up a solid 54.92% xGF, making KZB the third best line for the Blueshirts with at least 100 minutes together (via evolving-hockey.com). This season there is going to be a greater focus on the top line to push the puck in the right direction, especially considering the question marks down the lineup. Another thing to watch will be Zibanejad’s offensive production, the 27- year-old Swedish center had a career year with 41 goals and 75 points in just 57 games, while shooting almost 20%. There is bound to be some regression for Zibanejad, but the hope is that a healthy Chris Kreider and the every-steady presence of Buchnevich can bolster the top line scoring.
Line 2: Artemiy Panarin-Ryan Strome-Kaapo Kakko
While the Panarin/Strome pairing is still intact from last season, they lost linemate Jesper Fast to the Carolina Hurricanes during the offseason. Panarin was easily the Rangers’ MVP last season, putting up 32 goals and 95 points in his debut season on Broadway and Ryan Strome provided steady offensive support alongside the Russian sniper with an 18 goal, 59 point campaign. As for the right side of the 2nd line, the Rangers are turning to Kaapo Kakko to fill the void left by Jesper Fast. Everyone knows how the 2019 second overall pick struggled in his first season in the NHL, but the coaching staff is hopeful that playing alongside two legitimate offensive forces, along with experience that came from last season, helps bring out the skill and talent that made Kakko a top pick two years ago.
Line 3: Alexis Lafrenière-Filip Chytil-Julien Gauthier
With 144 games in the NHL and at 21 years old, Filip Chytil is the veteran driving this line for the Rangers. My boldest prediction is that this line will be the most fun to watch this season, as the super talented 2020 first overall pick Alexis Lafrenière becomes the first Ranger picked in that position to suit up for the team in franchise history. He’ll line up next to Filip Chytil, the 21 year old center looking to prove that he is the Rangers’ center of the future. On the right side is the complete wild card in the Julien Gauthier. Gauthier has all the physical tools you could want in a power forward, is only 23, and has 17 games of NHL experience. It might not be good right away, but this trio should be a lot of fun to watch, especially right out of the gate.
Line 4: Brendan Lemieux-Brett Howden-Phil DiGiuseppe
As much fun as the third line might be for the Rangers, the fourth line...is probably the opposite of that. While Brendan Lemieux is a solid, if unspectacular, fourth line winger and Phil DiGiuseppe can hold his own in limited minutes, the well-known and documented struggles of Brett Howden are not going to help things for the Rangers. Howden is still 22, but his struggles so far in the NHL have been immense and the Rangers coaching staff is looking to this line to handle defensive assignments in front of a defense that is questionable at best. There’s no real way to pretty it up, this might be hard to watch. Don’t be surprised if 13th forward Kevin Rooney rotates through each of the fourth line positions as the season rolls on.
So, in conclusion, the Rangers offense is gonna be a lot of fun to watch and, if everything breaks right, can be one of the best offenses in the league. There are a lot of question marks and hope throughout the lineup. The target should be fun and hope should be good.