New York Rangers: Projecting Alain Vigneault's Opening Night Lineup 4
Adam Hunger, USATSI

As we inch closer to the commencement of the NHL season, let’s take a look at what the New York Rangers will look like on opening night. 

The dog days of summer are now in fully in motion New York Rangers fans, and it seems that each day gets longer as we get deeper into August.

With that being said, the NHL season is just a little over two months away and it seems like just yesterday that the Pittsburgh Penguins were hoisting the Stanley Cup.

At this time last year, the New York Rangers were in a much different position to say the least.

Coming off their second straight excursion to the Eastern Conference Finals, expectations were extraordinarily high on Broadway. It appeared that they would live up to those high expectations after their blistering start in which they won 16 of their first 21 games.

That start was just an illusion, however.

The Blueshirts couldn’t find any sort of rhythm after their hot start and were eventually bounced by the Penguins in five games during the first round of the playoffs.

After a frustrating season, the assumption is that the Rangers will likely have their struggles en route to a mediocre season in the Big Apple.

With even more question marks surrounding this year’s roster, the 2016-17 season could certainly turn into a roller coaster ride. This team has it all when it comes to age.

A combination of a young core which includes guys like Derek Stepan, Ryan McDonagh, and Chris Kreider, along with aging stars like Rick Nash and Henrik Lundqvist, will make for some good theater.

Let’s take a look at how the Blueshirts may line up against the New York Islanders on opening night.

Forwards

Let’s start with the forwards.

At first glance, this group is loaded. From top to bottom, these guys can do it all and are absolutely a strength for Alain Vigneault.

The top two lines consist mostly of familiar faces (with the exception of Zibanejad) that can all score goals. The top trio of Nash, Stepan, and Zuccarello isn’t the fastest group, but all have the ability to score 25-30 goals this upcoming year.

Aaron Doster-USATSI
Aaron Doster-USATSI

The second line for the Blueshirts is one of the more exciting lines in the entire league. It consists of three guys who are all under the age of 26 and have yet to enter their primes. The speed of Kreider and Zibanejad along with the play making ability of Miller will prove to be deadly when at their best.

These three all have something to prove this season. With Kreider and Miller having signed new contracts and Zibanejad being acquired for Derick Brassard, an explosion from each of these guys could be imminent.

The bottom six for Alain Vigneault’s squad have the potential to be efficient this upcoming season. The arrivals of Pavel Buchnevich, Josh Jooris, and Michael Grabner add elements of speed to a lineup that lacked jump this past year.

Jooris and Grabner should be fantastic additions to what was an awful penalty kill last year. Tanner Glass will join these two on the fourth line, leaving Nathan Gerbe as the odd man out.

Many fans would like to see the opposite, but Vigneault seems to trust Glass more than anyone else on the team (for some reason), so expect Glass to be in the top 12 at least out of the gates.

Kevin Hayes and Jesper Fast will join Buchnevich on the third line. If Hayes can return to his rookie form and Fast keeps getting better, the third and fourth lines for the Rangers will be successful.

Something else to mention is that there is a real possibility that the Rangers could sign Jimmy Vesey. If he does come to the Big Apple, he would likely slot into Buchnevich’s spot on the third line and take Glass (hopefully) out of the lineup. In addition, when Oscar Lindberg returns to the ice, he will likely become the fourth center, taking Jooris’ place.

Defense

Now lets shift to the other side of the ice to take a look at the defensive corps.

If everything goes right, these defenders have what it takes to be a superb group. But if things go wrong in front of Henrik Lundqvist, this year will be an absolute disaster.

Let’s breakdown these three pairings.

Brad Penner, USATSI
Brad Penner, USATSI

The top pairing of McDonagh and Klein was a no-brainer in my mind. McDonagh is far and away the Blueshirt’s top point man while Klein was a great fit on the top pairing last year alongside McDonagh.

Here’s where the question marks come into play.

The bottom four defensive vacancies are up in the air at the moment. Brady Skjei proved that he deserves to be in the NHL following last year’s playoff performance but there are still question marks surrounding his play-making ability.

Dylan McIlrath, Nick Holden, and Adam Clendening will be fighting for the final spot. In a perfect world, Dan Girardi and Marc Staal would also be battling for spots in the lineup but their cap hits are astronomical and they can’t be left off the roster.

The way I see it, Alain Vigneault will likely give Holden the final spot because he lacks trust in McIlrath. Having said that, the big righty will work his way into the lineup later in the season.

Goalies

Henrik Lundqvist

Antti Raanta

The goalie situation remains the same as last year.

Henrik Lundqvist will attempt to stand on his head between the pipes, with Antti Raanta backing him up. The only potential controversy in net would be if prospect Mackenzie Skapski performs overwhelmingly well in training camp and finds a way to take Raanta’s job.

Adam Hunger, USATSI
Adam Hunger, USATSI

Overall, the Blueshirts have the opportunity to be a really good hockey team if everything falls in their favor. If the forwards can score and possess the puck like they are capable of, if the defenders can make Henrik’s job easier, and if the King performs like he has for the last decade, the Rangers could be a Stanley Cup contender.

But if things begin to fall apart, especially defensively, this could be the beginning of a dark age at Madison Square Garden.

Rangers: The Biggest Problem Moving Forward

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