Oh well since everyone else is getting to play armchair New York Rangers general manager, I thought why not play myself. Everyone seems to have their own idea as to who is going to be on the opening night lineup, I needed to point out where the holes were. And to make this clear this is just the opening night lineup as David Quinn changes his line combos more often than Cher changes her hairstyles.
Look anyone can throw names out there and think that they know how best to use the talent that the Rangers have but really it is not that easy. Are you going to build a lineup that offers you the best chance of beating other teams or are you thinking that you are building your lineup for others to try and beat you?
What has bothered me the most this off-season isn’t that folks are just handing jobs to the rookies but rather not realizing that you need players who are willing to do the dirty work (IE puck battles in corners or sideboards). Some are also forgetting that there are some rather dirty players in the NHL and you are going to need more than just one Brendan Lemieux to protect the talented players.
The easy part is sliding Artemi Panarin and Mika Zibanejad onto the first line but who plays right wing for them? Too many are giving the right wing spot to Pavel Buchnevich but I can’t. I have to have someone who will (A) protect Panarin and Zibanejad physically while (B) sacrificing their own game to go into the corners, set screens, pick up the rebounds. The said player also needs to be strong defensively to allow Panarin and Zibanejad the freedom to attack.
Having said that I went with Jesper Fast who does everything I just listed and does it unselfishly. There isn’t anyone else on the roster who will do everything for the team at the expense of his own personal game than Fast. Fast also has enough offense that he won’t hurt the production of his linemates. Second choice RW: Ryan Strome
Here is where the insanity begins as people are so sure that Kaapo Kakko is just going to walk right in and be at least the second line right wing. Maybe by mid-season but not at the beginning of the season. I don’t expect Chris Kreider to be a Ranger by the time the season starts so this line is going to be a problem. Brett Howden is the center for this line and he gets the job because he offers more offense than Lias Andersson and more defense than Filip Chytil.
Pavel Buchnevich gets the nod for the right wing on this line while Filip Chytil goes on the left side. Howden is used to doing the dirty work so that allows scorer Buchnevich and playmaker Chytil to do their own thing. It is a suspect line defensively and seriously doubt it will be together long.
The Detroit Red Wings liked to use a veteran forward as a mentor for their youth. They would rotate players from their AHL team to get them used to play at the NHL level. It helped extend the life of their veteran while developing their youth. Having said that I put Ryan Strome here with Kaapo Kakko and Vitali Kravtsov to wean them into life as an NHLer.
Ryan Strome knows firsthand the pressures of being a top first round draft pick so he is ideal to help Kakko and Kravtsov adapt and adjust. This line takes the pressure off Kakko and Kravtsov to produce from day one. Strome found new life playing for the Rangers and with these two very talented young players will benefit from their talent as well.
This one is going to be a combination of players depending on need. For starters, Vladislav Namestnikov can bounce anywhere in the lineup should someone get hurt. He may start on the fourth line but it is doubtful he will remain there long. Brendan Lemieux is your “enforcer”, Lias Andersson hopefully gets the wake-up call that he is in danger of being pushed aside but it would help if the Rangers would define his role. I will as I want him as the lead penalty-killer and defensive spark plug.
“Boo” Nieves will be the first spare forward as he can fill in at both center and wing. Nieves will have to fight off Vinnie Letteri, Clark McKegg, and Tim Gettinger for a roster spot.
The defense improves not only by the addition of Jacob Trouba but the subtractions of Kevin Shattenkirk and Brendan Smith.
Jacob Trouba is the easy part, finding him a reliable and dependable partner is the hard part. By rights, you are praying whatever was wrong with Brady Skjei’s game has fixed itself or you will be forced to use Marc Staal or a rookie. I have more faith in Ryan Lindgren being the right partner than I do Staal whose better days are behind him. Lindgren thinks defense first which will free Trouba to be more on the attack and not having to worried about covering for a partner.
Lindgren’s offense has improved enough to be worthy of a first pair spot.
Do whatever you have to do in order to help Brady Skjei find his game or else maybe the Rangers need to seriously consider moving him. If Skjei has his act together then he gets to partner with Adam Fox. Fox the smallish offensive weapon means Skjei has to be much stronger on defense. Fox is going to improve the Rangers power-play but if Skjei can bounce back to the player he was as a rookie then the Rangers will have two “first pair” defensemen on the team.
Marc Staal with his “no movement clause” and at age 32 pretty much forces the Rangers to use him here. Staal’s better days are behind him but if you can keep him at 14-16 minutes a night then you can find an effective defender. Tony Deangelo should be the partner here but he had best look over his shoulder as there are players looking to push past him. Deangelo has shown glimpses of being a solid player but the lack of consistency has held him back. Call this is best last chance and he gets it mainly because the Rangers are lacking in righthanded defenders.
Given a choice of Libor Hajek or Yegor Rykov then I would take Rykov sight unseen because he has a rep of being a solid defender. Sadly the same can’t be said about Hajek who lives, breathes, and sleeps offense. It is a shame too because Hajek has the skillset to be an excellent defenseman but it is his weakness on defense that will hurt his chances at making the Rangers. Rykov hopefully will have picked up on his offense to push either Deangelo or Staal for playing time by midseason.
Henrik Lundqvist is starting on the sunset of his career so the key is hoping either Alexandar Georgiev or Igor Shestyorkin can give the Rangers no less than 35 quality starts. Actually more importantly one of the two backups has to convince David Quinn to play them enough to make sure Lundqvist is not stuck playing multiple back-to-back games. Personally, I think Georgiev is more advanced than Shestyorkin so he gets my nod as the first backup.