Unlike last season, Rangers depth and bottom six is a reason for their success

Bobby Bevilacqua

viktor stalberg and dominic moore hi five 10-19

Dominic Moore and Viktor Stalberg both help provide a lot of depth on this Rangers squad. Photo courtesy of MSG Photos.

What a difference a year can make.

Last season, the biggest issue discussed and written about by bloggers, reporters, analysts and fans was the lack of depth in the Rangers lineup. Tanner Glass was an everyday player on the fourth line, while Lee Stempniak, Jesper Fast and JT Miller all competed for ice time.

Once the Rangers traded away Stempniak, they really didn’t have a spare forward that could step in and produce. That came into play during the playoffs when Mats Zuccarello went down with an injury, and James Sheppard had to step into the lineup. He didn’t have much of an impact, totaling two points (1-1-2) in 13 playoff games.

More importantly, the fourth line was terrible. Tanner Glass and James Sheppard did nothing to help out Dominic Moore, they struggled against the Lightning’s top players, and spent minimal time on attack. They didn’t do what a fourth line is supposed to do.

After some nifty offseason moves by Jeff Gorton, the Rangers have a healthy competition for roster spots on the third and fourth line, and there isn’t a wrong answer or choice for Vigneault to make.

The third line seems to have been set, with Kevin Hayes resuming his role as center, flanked by the talented JT Miller and the rookie Oscar Lindberg on the wings. This trio has been one of the best lines throughout the season, with all three players tallying at least six points. Oscar Lindberg is second on the team in goals scored with five.

As for the fourth line, Vigneault has the choice to use Jarret Stoll, Dominic Moore, Viktor Stalberg and Emerson Etem. Moore is a mainstay, and I don’t see him leaving the lineup for any reason. So that leaves three people competing for two wing spots.

Viktor Stalberg has been a revelation for the Rangers, playing an excellent all-around game and solidifying the penalty kill and the fourth line. He’s a poor man’s Chris Kreider, with some surprising speed, and using his size and strength to win puck battles and get to the front of the net. He has a respectable four points through nine games and a +5 rating.

Jarret Stoll has been a lot better than I thought he would be. While he doesn’t necessarily drive possession, part of it is due to the heavy work he gets in the defensive zone, starting there or the neutral zone on almost all of his shifts. Stoll’s faceoffs have been a very nice asset, and his veteran leadership and experience really helps out in some areas.

Emerson Etem has only played three games, but he’s been good when he has had a shot in the lineup. He’s probably the most talented offensively, and his upside is tremendous. He does need to improve the defensive aspect of his game, but it’s certainly gotten better.

It’ll be a tough choice for Vigneault to make when Stalberg returns to the lineup. But realistically, there isn’t a bad choice. Stoll, Etem and Stalberg are all good players. This is a great problem to have. Veterans can get a chance to have, you can insert players that work better in certain matchups, and take out a player that is struggling so you can work on their game with them. All of those options are possible.

Depth and the ability to make changes wins championships.

Posted on November 1, 2015, in In the Crease and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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