Now that the NHL Draft and free agency has passed, New York Rangers HC David Quinn can start thinking about how to construct his lines and pairings.
The New York Rangers have been very quiet during this offseason. A surprise first-round pick in Vitali Kravtsov, 10th overall in the 2018 NHL Entry Draft, has been the biggest player decision so far even though he won’t be available to New York until his KHL season ends in late February 2019.
The free agency period has brought only one signing, Fredrik Claesson, who played in Ottawa last season.
Jeff Gorton has agreed to terms with all of the teams restricted free agents with the exception Ryan Spooner, Kevin Hayes and Brady Skjei, but don’t expect either of them reaching a salary arbitration hearing as new deals should be agreed upon shortly.
Aside from any trades being completed between now and opening night in October, which is a good possibility, or a rookie player cracking the lineup out of camp, this is the team coach Quinn will have when camp opens in September. Plenty of lineup possibilities with plenty of question marks.
Opening Night Lineup
Chris Kreider – Mika Zibanejad – Pavel Buchnevich
Lias Andersson – Filip Chytil – Mats Zuccarello
Jimmy Vesey – Kevin Hayes – Vladislav Namestnikov
Cody McLeod – Ryan Spooner – Jesper Fast
Brady Skjei – Kevin Shattenkirk
Neal Pionk – Marc Staal
Rob O’Gara – Anthony DeAngelo
Henrik Lundqvist – Alexandar Georgiev
Looking at the forwards, the Rangers have so many options.
I would have Boo Nieves, Brett Howden or Matt Beleskey as the extra forwards, but a player such as Sean Day or Ty Ronning who could be one of the surprises in camp to make the team. The team’s rebuild model right now would absolutely allow for a surprise move like this as the organization is willing to sacrifice some experience for youth and scoring.
Now before the crazy talk begins, understand to have the best lineup, some players are going to have to move from center to wing. The Rangers have seven centers with only four center positions. I do not believe Andersson can benefit the team as third or fourth line center, moving him to wing gets him plenty more time on the ice. Should it fail, maybe switch him with Chytil.
The defensemen are still the weak link to the team. These top six is the best the Rangers can put on the ice.
John Gilmour needs some more time in the AHL or the Rangers could keep him with the club and work with him more closely every day. Brendan Smith will get his opportunity to make the team and will absolutely battle Claesson, who has the size and 128 games career, for the extra defenseman spot.
Skjei, Pionk and Shattenkirk are the three to work around when the time for changes come, and a change will be coming it is just a matter if a trade will happen before or after opening night.
The goaltending, of course, is the simplest to lay out. Should the Rangers find a solid backup via free agency or trade, Georgiev could find himself battling for the backup spot in training camp which would be a good thing for the goalie.
Competition brings out the best in him. Georgiev would probably see at least 25 to 28 games sitting behind Lundqvist should he indeed make the club.
There are so many possibilities and be sure we may see all of them late in the preseason and early on in the regular season. The idea here is to get the best, most productive players on the ice at the same time.
Of course, this entire story could change if Jeff Gorton trades a center or a prospect for a scoring forward or starting defenseman.
The organization would like to keep the Blueshirts as competitive as possible knowing the odds are stacked against them to make the playoffs. Battling for a wild-card spot in the east should be the opening-night goal for the organization.
The puzzle is coming along nicely. Is it October yet?