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New York Rangers

What Will Be The New York Rangers Opening Night Lineup?

Artemi Panarin (Columbus BlueJackets)

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.

First Line

Jesper Fast (NHL.com)

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

Second Line

Brett Howden (NHL.com)

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.

Third Line

Kaapo Kakko (Turun Sanomat)

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.

Fourth Line

Lias Andersson (NHLPA.com)

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.

Defense

The defense improves not only by the addition of Jacob Trouba but the subtractions of Kevin Shattenkirk and Brendan Smith.

First Pair

Jacob Trouba (Winnipeg Jets)

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.

Second Pair

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.

Third Pair

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.

Spare

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.

Goalies

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.

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For The Rangers How Much Will Be Too Much?

Jacob Trouba (Winnipeg Jets)

So both Jacob Trouba and Pavel Buchnevich filed for salary arbitration late last week and the question to ask is: At what point would the Rangers walk away for an arbitrator’s award? At the time of this being written, the Rangers projected salary cap space was $8,018,534 (according to CapFriendly.com). Of that 8 million, the Rangers will also need to sign Brendan Lemieux and Tony Deangelo who are also restricted free agents as well as add at least two more players to fill out the roster.

Look I am not going to pretend to play salary cap expert and figure out ways to pay for everyone. Nor will I try to figure out the roster at this point in time. This is about at what point would the Rangers walk away from any salary award. The smartest thing for the Rangers would be to avoid having to go into an arbitration hearing period. Realistically the worst thing the Rangers could do is be forced to make such a decision.

If I was Jacob Trouba I would be asking for as much money as possible. Why not because how exactly can the Rangers argue a lower salary at any hearing? When the arbitrator asks Trouba to defend what he is asking for, the first answer is going to be “Because they traded for me.” Trouba can say the Rangers gave up a first-round pick and Neil Pionk knowing that he was a restricted free agent.

What will the Rangers say? Well, he is injury prone (why did you trade for him then?), that his 50 points were a first (why did you trade for him then?), or that he is just 25 (see first two). Trouba knows that just by being traded to the Rangers that he became their best defenseman upon arrival. What do the Rangers say if Trouba is awarded more than 7 million dollars by the arbitrator? If you think for a second the Rangers will say “we think that is too much and will walk away from the award” then you are kidding yourself.

As for Buchnevich, in his case, there is no way Buchnevich deserves more than 2 million in any award. Sorry, the Rangers will have plenty of arguments to win an arbitration case against him. Start with how inconsistent Buchnevich can be, work your way down to how many times Buchnevich found himself in David Quinn’s doghouse and that despite a career high in goals he wound up with fewer points than in 2017-2018.

Buchnevich needs the Rangers more than they need him at this point in time. There are players lining up behind him who over the next year or two can and very likely pass him on the depth chart. How much Buchnevich counts against the salary cap could be the deciding factor as to whether he stays or goes.

Let’s Talk The Draft (Rd’s 3-7)

The easy part of the 2019 NHL Entry is over and one can say that the Rangers are already having a winning draft. But the Rangers still need to find depth as well as talent with their remaining five picks so here goes.

68— If Shane Pinto RW (6’2 195) of the Lincoln Stars (USHL) is here then grab him. Pinto who is headed to North Dakota is big RW who can also play center. He is a work in progress which is why you are looking at him here.

Strong passer who can read the ice well is also a good skater. Despite his size he needs work on in play in traffic as well as his shot selection. Worthy gamble if available but if not then would rather see the Rangers trade down to add more picks.

112— Rangers have to wait 42 picks due to trades before selecting in the 4th round and I am headed back to the WHL. I really like Reece Newkirk of the Portland Winterhawks here mainly because when I watch him play I see Ryan Callahan (also a fourth round pick).

The 5’11 170 center/left wing Newkirk had 59 points in 68 games and his size is why he is here in the fourth. Like Callahan, Newkirk plays with no fear at any end of the ice and is a human wrecking ball. Ranger fans will fall in love with this kid because of his heart and fight.

130— In the fifth I like a kid I got to watch when following Riley Hughes in Massimo Rizzo of the Penticton Vees (BCHL). The name alone says he is made to be playing at Madison Square Garden but seriously the 5’10 170 center/left wing is super fast and an excellent stickhandler.

Also heading to North Dakota, Rizzo plays bigger than his size and is rock solid in all three zones. Really love the way Rizzo’s on-ice vision works as he reads plays before they develop. Will be a serious threat on the power play the way he controls the puck.

161— Right Wing Aaron Huglen of Roseau Jr. Sr. High School in Minnesota. One of the more dominate high players in Minnesota, Huglen is a hard working forward who plays much bigger than his 5’11 size. A smart player who wins puck battles in the paint and will take a hit if it makes a play.

Huglen is heading to the Minnesota Golden Gophers where he will continue to grow and improve.

205— With their last pick, the Rangers are going to repeat their seventh round idea from 2018 and select another Boston high school player. Defenseman Braden Doyle of Lawrence Academy a Boston University recruit follows the path that last year’s seventh rounder Riley Hughes did by taking an extra year before heading off to college.

This one could be one of the better kept secrets as Doyle was selected by the Boston Bruins as the winner of the John Carlton Memorial Trophy. The award is given annually to the high school “who combine exceptional hockey skills with academic excellence.”

Doyle will play next season for Dubuque Fighting Saints of the USHL. He is an offensive-minded defender who can take the puck from his end and lead the rush. An excellent puck-handler, Doyle is also impossible to take the puck from once he gets going.

Fits David Quinns system because he can either skate or pass the puck up the ice in a hurry. Needs work on his defensive side which is why he lasts to the seventh round but that is OK the Rangers will be happy to have him.