Divining the Rangers Fourth Line and Possible Regular Season Lineup
Let's take a daring adventure into the land of educated guesses and debating who should be where in the lineup.
Well, Derek Stepan will be a Ranger for at least two more years. On Thursday Stepan signed a two-year deal worth $6.15 million. When Stepan signed the Rangers were forced to make cap space available and there is no doubt that he will also be taking a roster spot on one of the team's top two lines.
Obviously we don't truly know what the lines are going to be but we have a good idea of what guys are going to be playing on one of the top three lines and what guys are either going to be on the fourth line or will be put on waivers and/or kept with the team as a healthy scratch. The Rangers roster has now become a game of musical chairs; there are only so many seats and a few too many rear ends... someone is going to be left standing when the music stops.
So let's take a look at what the Rangers roster looks like when it is healthy (note: these are not true line projections).
Derek Dorsett, J.T. Miller, Oscar Lindberg, Jesper Fast, Marek Hrivik, Brandon Mashinter, Darroll Powe, Arron Asham
However we all know full well that the Rangers roster isn't going to start this season healthy. Both Ryan Callahan and Carl Hagelin are going to miss time with shoulder injuries and because of that two roster spots open up to players that would otherwise be playing in Hartford at the start of the season. So who will get ice time while Hagelin is out (supposedly he is a few weeks away from being cleared for contact) and if Ryan Callahan misses time (he was just recently cleared for contact)?
The Probable Pair- In my opinion we're going to see Dominic Moore and Brian Boyle as locks for the fourth line (Boyle could end up on the third line). The Rangers need forwards to take defensive zone starts and Moore and Boyle are a strong pair. Moore, like Boyle, is an outstanding defensive center and though he does have the ability to score he will almost certainly be given the bulk of defensive zone starts. Brian Boyle led the Rangers last year with the highest percentage of non-offensive zone starts with 62.7% and in 2011-12 Moore led the San Jose Sharks in non-offensive starts with 57.7% of his shifts starting outside of the offensive zone. These guys are defensive zone specialists and are almost certainly locks for the roster because of the role that they play. (zone start stats from behindthenet.ca)
Taylor Pyatt- We all know that Pyatt is slow and hasn't been a particularly productive player for the Rangers but he does provide strength and size and is outstanding around the net and fighting for pucks in the corners. Pyatt's roster spot is anything but guaranteed with so many of the kids looking as good as they have looked in training camp and in the preseason. With that being said Pyatt brings something that almost all of the kids can't bring which is size, experience, toughness, and not feeling like he is wasted playing on the fourth line. Pyatt is also not a defensive liability despite his lack of speed. In my opinion we are going to see Taylor Pyatt as a roster mainstay on the fourth line or potentially as the thirteenth forward.
J.T. Miller- Miller's greatest strength right now, other than how comfortable he has looked in preseason, is his versatility. Miller can play both center and wing and though his defensive game left something to be desired last season he has impressed in the preseason and is a very strong candidate to make the team out of training camp. I can't see the Rangers keeping a guy like Miller up to play him on the fourth line so if he does stay I think we'll see him on the third line.
Derek Dorsett- I don't know what to think of Dorsett right now. Is he the poor man's Prust? Is he more than the player we saw take stupid, needless penalties in the 2013 NHL Playoffs? Is he the thirteenth forward or will we see him start the season on the Rangers fourth line? To be fair to Dorsett he was coming off an injury when he made his debut for the Rangers in the playoffs and was new to the team and to the system. With that being said Dorsett is a player that is either going to end up on the fourth line or without a chair when the music stops because all he brings to the team is toughness and a willingness to drop the gloves. If it is between Dorsett and Asham for the thirteenth forward I think we'll see Dorsett because he can be used in the defensive zone and on the penalty kill or at least he was used that way in Columbus.
The Young Euros- Oscar Lindberg, Jesper Fast, and Marek Hrivik have all turned heads and impressed in the Traverse City Tournament, in training camp, and in the Rangers preseason games. If I had to pick one player out of the bunch of them to challenge for one of the roster spots I'd have to go with Lindberg because of the intellectual brand of hockey he plays. Both Fast and Hrivik have looked very cool and confident on the ice and I wouldn't be shocked if one or both of them get a call up during the 2013-2014 season. With that being said I don't think we'll see any of the young European prospects start the season with the big club because if they aren't going to get at least third line minutes they are better off playing big minutes in Hartford with the Wolfpack.
Chris Kreider- It pains me to type these next few words but there is a chance that Kreider might not start the season with the big club. In preseason Kreider has looked hesitant and out of place while the other young forwards have looked comfortable and competent. I think Alain Vigneault will want to see more out of Kreider but don't be shocked if Kreider finds himself in the AHL after the preseason or after a few weeks of the season have gone by. The Rangers are a team that wants to win now and if Kreider doesn't give them the best chance to win they should play the players that will. For what it's worth I think Kreider will be on the team and will have a good season, especially if he finds some linemates he can click with.
Destined for the AHL?- With Derek Stepan's $3.075 million cap hit on the books the Rangers will almost certainly have to bury either one or both of Darroll Powe and Arron Asham in the AHL. Powe carries a cap hit of $1,067,667 and Asham carries a cap hit of $1,000,000 (both are on the last years of their contracts). The Rangers are currently $275,000 over the cap so someone (or two someones) are going to have to go on waivers and play for the Wolfpack. There is also the possibility of creating cap space by putting Carl Hagelin on the LTIR but I expect that we'll see Powe and/or Asham demoted. The addition of Dorsett makes Asham redundant and unnecessary and because of that I'd rather the Rangers kept Powe up with the big club if they could find a way to. Powe has looked very solid in the preseason and if there is an injury to a forward he could plug in nicely as the fourth line center.
Brandon Mashinter- Amazing name aside Mashinter's chances of making this team aren't very good. Mashinter has looked pretty good in the preseason games he has played in but with Dorsett around I don't see where he fits into the picture with the big club. He should be very proud to have survived the first few waves of cuts though. His intimidation factor is something that we should all keep in mind though.
So boys and girls who do you think will be the Rangers bottom six on opening night? Where do you put Dorsett, Pyatt, Miller, Kreider, and the young European forwards? Which of the young European forwards has impressed you the most? Who do you see replacing Callahan and Hagelin in the lineup until their return?
Let's go Rangers.
Note: I am aware that Joe's story this morning covered this topic but I stayed up quite late writing this and I thought it was still worth a read. Enjoy.