Training camp is here and one of the most fun parts about that is predicting the opening night lineup for your favorite club. The Rangers have made a bunch of different moves this summer and none of them for a star or superstar player to really alter the roster. Here I will lay out my optimal Rangers opening night lineup.
Having lost Pavel Buchnevich opens a spot on the right side of the Blueshirts top line next to Mika Zibanejad. It shall be really fun and interesting to see what Gerard Gallant does to fill that spot with the plethora of wings the Rangers have to offer. While we know that Zibanejad is primarily a goal scorer and not much of a playmaker, he will certainly miss Buchnevich’s playmaking ability on the wing. Especially with Chris Kreider presumably sticking to 1st line LW, and he’s not a playmaker at all either.
Logically, Alexis Lafreniere will slide to his off wing and should fit in nicely to the hole left by Buchnevich. Lafreniere has been known as an elite level playmaker going back to his junior days. The way he sees the ice and sets up his linemates would form a perfect bond with Zibanejad and Kreider. With Kreider’s ability to play below the goal line and win some 50/50 puck battles it should offer a nice dynamic of grit, physicality, and finishing ability for a Rangers top line hoping to not miss a beat after sending away Buchnevich.
The second line should be relatively the same with Panarin on the left and Strome in the middle and bringing up Kaapo Kakko on the right side. In short spurts last year where we saw David Quinn begrudgingly put Kakko on the RW of Panarin and Strome, Kakko produced offensively playing with a player like Panarin. It’s no secret that Artemi Panarin is one of the best players in hockey and will always improve whoever he plays with, but his playmaking ability should unlock the potential that so many see in Kakko.
Often times in Kakko’s rookie and sophomore years I noticed him trying to do a bit too much offensively trying to score and just missing some chances. Playing with Panarin and Strome will alleviate a lot of there where all he has to do is find some soft ice and Panarin will do the rest.
Here’s where it begins to get interesting for me, the third line. Ideally newly brought over Barclay Goodrow should be the pivot on this line with Chytil and Kravtsov on the wings. Goodrow is far better defensively than Chytil and he’s also much more reliable in the faceoff dot which’ll help the Rangers immensely. Chytil has shown a lot of promise as a young offensive player but it appears that his game is far better suited for the wing than it is for the middle of the ice. Goodrow at 3C might be the best and smartest move for Gallant because it’ll take a lot of pressure off Chytil and will hopefully allow him to reach his offensive potential that he’s flashed.
The big bad fourth line is here for the Rangers. Predictably it’ll be Reaves-Rooney-Blais who will be a hard forechecking trio that should make things tough on opposing teams top six. While there might be a lot of offensive production to this unit, fans should be expecting hard hits and tough defense from this unit. You could also see Morgan Barron potentially here if he continues to impress in training camp and play some solid minutes depending on the matchup that night.
Defensively the units seem to all but write themselves down. Fox-Lindgren is still this club’s shutdown pairing and there’s no reason to think Gallant and his staff will break them up. Trouba-Miller played well together last season and that’s another pair that seems all but penciled in for the Rangers.
The third pair is where you can see it get interesting. While many fans, myself included, believe it’ll be Nils Lundkvist and Patrik Nemeth, I wouldn’t be shocked if, depending on camp, Braden Schneider or Matthew Robertson get a shot on the 3rd pair with Lundkvist to start the year. Schneider and Robertson are still long shots to make the club but lets not forget that Gallant just coached Schneider for the World Champion Canada team this summer so Gallant is a bit more familiar with Schneider than most.
Let’s also not forget that Miller played his way on to the club last year as well so while it’ll be a shock it’s definitely not uncommon that a young player plays well and shows they can’t be denied.
With no injuries my opening night projected lineup will be as follows:
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