What the Rangers lineup should look like in 2015
Since the 2011-12 season, when the Rangers began to consistently make long runs in the playoffs, there has been a lot of roster turnover. Every year, different players are shown the door, whether it be through trades or free agency, and new people are brought in to replace them.
Despite the constant change, the Rangers have managed to stay competitive, consistent, and retain a very strong, young core group of guys. This year was no different, with the forward group set to almost completely change for the upcoming season.
If assembled right, and if some of the young talent pans out, then this year’s team has the chance to be even better than last year’s Eastern Conference Finalist team. With a great balance of veteran leadership, star power, and youth, we could see big things in New York for the 2015-16 NHL season.
First Line: Rick Nash-Derick Brassard-Mats Zuccarello
The first line put together about halfway through last season in the one that Vigneault should use to start this next season. Once this trio began playing a few games together, the chemistry was immediate and apparent on the ice. This was the Rangers best line almost every night, and it felt as if they were scoring a goal every single game.
Rick Nash is coming off of one of his best seasons in the NHL, setting a new career high in goals with 42. His goal scoring pace at the beginning of the season was incredible, and consistent. He had six goals in the first four games of the season, and nine through the first nine games. That pace would remain constant throughout a large portion of the season as he challenged guys like Tyler Seguin and Alex Ovechkin for the league lead in goals. He came into training camp in excellent shape, and it really showed.
Pairing him with Derick Brassard and Mats Zuccarello will work excellently. Both players are excellent passers, especially Zuccarello, and the three combine to make an incredible possession line. Zuccarello is known setting up his teammates and driving possession, and Brassard also adds another scoring outlet and acts as a puck distributor.
Second Line: Chris Kreider-Derek Stepan-JT Miller
With Martin St. Louis now retired, the Rangers need to find a new player to put on the right wing of Derek Stepan. Since they’ve been on the same team, Stepan and Kreider have seemed to always play together. The chemistry between the two is astounding, and it’s as if they know what each other is going to do before they actually do it. Chris Kreider’s speed complements Stepan’s playmaking ability, and by pairing the two together, it allows the line to take more risks on offense due to Kreider’s speed and Stepan’s defensive ability.
While Kevin Hayes could certainly move back to the wing, I think that JT Miller is a natural fit to replace St. Louis for the upcoming season. It took some time for him to build up trust from head coach Alain Vigneault, but he earned it as the season progressed, and was put into more offensive situations. By the end of the playoffs, Miller was playing on the top line with Brassard and Nash. He got really unlucky during the playoffs, a victim of multiple hit goal posts and great saves, but he broke through in Game 6 against the Lightning with a four point (1-3-4) night, including his first career NHL playoff goal.
I see Miller as a Brandon Dubinsky type of player. He has good size, good hands, and strong, all-around offensive ability and instincts. He can play the physical game and still contribute on both ends of the ice. His defensive game needs to improve, but it definitely got better. He seemed most comfortable as a right winger, and he will stay in that position on this line. Don’t be surprised if somewhere in the near future, with more minutes and offensive zone time, Miller turns into a 40-50 point winger.
Third Line: Viktor Stalberg-Kevin Hayes-Emerson Etem
The Rangers third line last season was good at times, but never as dynamic as the Pouliot-Brassard-Zuccarello line from the 2013-14 season. Kevin Hayes was easily the standout of the group this year, and he had a constantly rotating group of wingers on his side. This year, I think it’ll be a much more consistent group, and potentially a really effective line.
Last season, Kevin Hayes started out slowly. He admitted that he focused too much on not making mistakes and playing smart defensively as he adapted to his new center position. As the season went on, and Hayes began to take more chances on offense, he became a much more effective player. His size and long reach enables him to play a similar style of hockey as Joe Thornton. Hayes is another great passer on the team, able to draw defenders away from his teammates and use his long reach to work the puck over to an open player. He played really well down the middle, and looked comfortable controlling play.
Viktor Stalberg was one of the offseason signings made by Jeff Gorton. After being bought out of the remaining years of his contract by Nashville following a year of injury, rehab and some NHL time, the Rangers inked him to a cheap, $1.1 million deal. Stalberg is 6-foot-3 and 209 pounds, adding size to the Rangers lineup, but without compromising speed. He’s surprisingly quick, which helps diminish the loss of Carl Hagelin. He’s also an excellent defensive forward, one that’s extremely effective at suppressing opponents’ shots and scoring chances, while driving possession and producing points at the rate of a second liner. A former 20 goal scorer and Stanley Cup Champion with the Blackhawks, Stalberg is an excellent addition to the team.
Emerson Etem became a part of the Rangers organization after Gorton traded Carl Hagelin to the Anaheim Ducks to move up in the draft, as well as acquire the rights to Etem. A former junior hockey standout with the Medicine Hat Tigers, Etem rotted on the Ducks fourth line for parts of three seasons. His situation was extremely similar to that of JT Miller, constantly bouncing between the NHL and AHL, and usually playing with less-skilled players on the fourth line in the NHL. Also a bigger, physical forward, Etem combines with Hayes and Stalberg to make the largest Rangers line, and surprisingly, one of the faster lines. Etem has great speed, and has a history of scoring in junior hockey and, more importantly, in the AHL. He’ll get every opportunity to succeed in a top-nine role, and I think that he will do well alongside Kevin Hayes and Stalberg. This could be a very versatile, useful line for Vigneault.
Fourth Line: Oscar Lindberg-Dominic Moore-Jesper Fast
The fourth line is crucial to a team’s success. Derek Dorsett, Moore and Brian Boyle really helped the Rangers in the 2014 playoff run, taking the tough defensive minutes away from the top lines, and also scoring goals. It was a tremendous help to the rest of the team.
The Rangers lacked that in this year’s playoffs. Jesper Fast was forced to move up in the lineup due to injury, and James Sheppard and Tanner Glass did not get the job done. Their defensive ability was okay, but not good enough to deal with guys like Tyler Johnson and Nikita Kucherov.
This year, Vigneault needs to put speedier players with more skill around Dominic Moore. Moore is an excellent defensive center that wins a lot of face offs, and he can surprise you at times with his offensive ability. Moore scored 10 goals this year, and probably would have more assists if he was paired with different players.
Jesper Fast is a promising young forward in the Rangers organization, and someone that is just starting to find their offensive touch. He played with Kreider and Stepan in the playoffs, lighting up the Capitals and their defense in the second round. He’s scored some fantastic goals, like his spin-o-rama goal against the Hurricanes, or his breakaway goal against the Lightning. He’s an excellent defensive forward, and he became a fixture on the team’s power play.
The Rangers took their time developing Oscar Lindberg in the AHL, and his one-way deal means that they are likely looking to give him a chance to crack the opening night roster. Lindberg is very similar to Fast; an excellent defensive forward with a touch of speed. However, he was a very good scorer at the AHL level, with 28 goals and 28 assists this past season. He’s naturally a center, and another good faceoff guy.
With Lindberg and Fast manning the wings, and Dom Moore remaining as the team’s fourth line center, the bottom six is already improved. The line is faster, more skilled offensively, and very strong defensively. There is no doubt in my mind that they would be able to handle tough defensive minutes, score some goals and really help the top three lines flourish.
Spare Forward: Tanner Glass
Ryan McDonagh-Dan Girardi
Marc Staal-Dan Boyle
Keith Yandle-Kevin Klein
There isn’t really much to talk about here. The defense will remain the same as last year. Kevin Klein isn’t going to be traded, and the Rangers will send out the same six defenseman as last year, with Yandle being the one exception. That’s not a bad thing either.
If the Rangers manage to field a healthy defensive group for most of the season, then they’ll be a very good team again. Vigneault’s system, while up tempo, starts with doing your job defensively and making outlet passes. McDonag, Boyle, Staal and Yandle all do this extremely well. Dan Girardi and Klein are more physical and defensive oriented. All six guys can match up against some of the best offensive players in the league, and help make the Rangers a shut-down team.
There is one problem, and it sounds foolish. The Rangers almost have “too many” good defensemen.
When guys like Keith Yandle are seeing just 15 minutes of ice time a night, there’s a problem. I know that he was getting integrated into the system at first, but Yandle is an elite puck moving defensemen, coming off of back-to-back 50 point seasons. The Rangers haven’t had that kind of offensive defenseman since Brian Leetch, and it adds a whole different dynamic to the blue line. But Vigneault opts to put Dan Girardi on the power play at times, and Yandle didn’t get enough opportunites play where he is most comfortable. I wish that he could be getting 18-20 minutes of ice time a night, but it probably won’t happen.
However, you have a likely 50 point player in Yandle. McDonagh, healthy for a year and understainding of the roles that captaincy brings, could also jump to a 50 point producer. Dan Boyle had a really down year, injured for a large stretch of time, but he could easily put up 30 points. There is a ton of talent on defense, and enough guys to shut down opponents too.
Another area where there isn’t much to say. Henrik Lundqvist is coming off of a spectacular playoffs, most notably in the first two rounds. He battled back from a vascular injury in his neck, and looked to be his old self again. If he was healthy for the whole season, he could have been on track for 40+ wins and some of his best career stats. He’s one of the best goalies in the NHL, and the backbone of the team.
Antti Raanta was acquired in a trade from the cap-strapped Chicago Blackhawks for college prospect Ryan Haggerty. Raanta was very effective in Chicago, with a strong rookie season, but lost his spot on the roster chart to Scott Darling, first round hero against Nashville, and also a cheaper contract. Raanta will assume the backup role in New York, and also get to learn under Benoit Allaire and Henrik Lundqvist.
Posted on August 3, 2015, in In the Crease and tagged Antti Raanta, Chris Kreider, Dan Boyle, Dan Girardi, Derek Stepan, Derick Brassard, Dominic Moore, Emerson Etem, Etem Rangers, Henrik Lundqvist, Jesper Fast, JT Miller, Keith Yandle, Kevin Hayes, Kevin Klein, King Lundqvist, Marc Staal, Mats Zuccarello, New York Rangers, New York Rangers prospects, NYR, Oscar Lindberg, Rangers, Rangers prospects, Rick Nash, Ryan McDonagh, Smashfest, Stalberg Rangers, Viktor Stalberg, Zuccarello injury. Bookmark the permalink. 6 Comments.
Fantastic read. Pretty good predictions, too. IMO, there will probably be a bit of player juggling regarding the Right Wingers, but I think your analysis is spot on for how things will at least start out.
I’ll tell ya, I’m ridiculously pumped for training camp and can’t believe we’re already into August. Training Camp is less than a month & a half away. Autumn is right around the bend!
Per usual, thanks for the consistent Rangers talk during the off-season. Wish more people would respond to your Blog with comments, but it does seem you’re getting many reads (lots of people vote in your polls, which is cool). Maybe comments will pick up once the regular Season gets under way.
I also see that Steve Valiquette chose to subscribe to your twitter. That’s quite the compliment, as he’s one of the better hockey analysts out there. Respect!
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Thanks Tim! I’m glad you enjoy the articles, I try to keep some Rangers talk going during the offseason, it’s going to be a pretty slow few weeks until camp, which I am really excited for too! I like this team, and there is a lot of promise with the youth, and having hockey back is always great.
What usually happens with comments is that I get them, but on Facebook. I share each article to a bunch of groups, and people seem to prefer to comment there. But I do like them on the site too! I try and encourage it.
The right wingers will be juggled, and Stalberg could get the Stempniak treatment and start the year out on the second line.
I had the pleasure of talking to Valiquette, who said that he read some of my articles. Great guy and excellent analyst!
As always, thanks for your feedback
Take Lindberg out and put in Glass and I think you have it. Glass played well down the stretch and in the playoffs and is their only physical presence. Not big on Lindberg. Too soft.
Physicality doesn’t win games. Tampa has no “physical” players, they beat us. Chicago doesn’t have one designated enforcer, they won the cup. Those days are past. You can’t sacrifice skill and offensive production for a guy who can punch people
I agree with the forwards. Third line will be interesting. Lindberg should learn a lot with Moore as a tutor. I hope McIlrath finds a way to break the line-up. I am not a fan of Boyle. IMO Boyle is a horrid D-man. McIlrath can also keep the crease clear in front of Hank, a cluttered crease is all to common. McIlrath can hit and hit EXTREMELY hard. He will keep opposing wingers heads up. If he has learned to hit hard without taking himself out of position he can be something the Rangers need desperately on D. He can offer a element of protection for more skilled players. Again something the Rangers need. All too often physical forwards from the teams we’re playing have a field day on our skilled players without any pause as to what might happen in return. Our pathetic poer play certainly isn’t a deterrent. I’d love to see McIlrath paired with Yandle. Sort of a poor man’s Buke and Leetch.
Sorry for the typo, that should be pathetic power play.