How The Rangers Recent Signings May Impact Next Year’s Lineup

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USA Today

With July coming to an end, the Rangers have finally inked their two remaining RFAs, Kevin Hayes and Ryan Spooner. After months of trade speculation and roster predictions, Jeff Gorton was able to bring back these two forwards. But, in re-signing Spooner and Hayes, the Rangers now have an excess of centers who can be utilized in a variety of ways.

There are several players whose roles are fairly certain heading into August. There is no speculation as to where Zibanejad will start the year since he has solidified himself as the Rangers top line center. Rookies Lias Andersson and Filip Chytil will most likely play up the middle on any of the bottom three lines. 

But that leaves us with Hayes, Spooner, and Vlad Namestnikov as the remaining centers. The versatility of this group means that new head coach David Quinn can create many different potential combinations to get the most out of these players. Each one has a very unique skill set that makes it no walk in the park when it comes to fitting them in the right spot. Neglecting to adjust line combinations and discover what will give your team the best chance to win is part of what lost Alain Vigneault his job. Vigneault, who was notorious for keeping skilled youngsters like Pavel Buchnevich in the bottom-six, seemed to be allergic to the concept of making adjustments. Quinn is going to have his work cut out for him if he wants to find the ideal positions for these players.

Hayes is probably the easiest of the three to speculate about. Hayes has spent limited time here and there on the wing but has played the vast majority of his career in the middle. His power-forward style of play is ideal for a big centerman, so it should be no surprise come opening night when that is where he is playing. The real question is on what line he will play. He has spent a decent portion of his career as a second-line center, but he’s also gained some experience anchoring the third-line.

But, because the Rangers now have a youth-focused gameplan, that could mean changes for Kevin Hayes. Since he is not the goal scoring threat that a finesse player usually is, there is a very strong chance he will end up being bumped down a line. If Hayes is indeed starting on the third line, that is because the Rangers coaching staff has placed Filip Chytil on the second unit.  

So that brings us to Vlad Namestnikov. Namestnikov, by all means, has a second line skill-set at his current level of development and has played both the center position and the wing. This past season in Tampa Bay, he spent the majority of his time on the wing next to Nikita Kucherov and Steven Stamkos. With Hayes possibly demoted to the third line in favor of Flip Chytil, that leaves a second line wing spot wide open for Namestnikov to take. He is a good passer, an even better skater, and paired with Chytil’s finesse and skating ability, can create a very dangerous line.

With Namestnikov playing next to Chytil on the second line and Hayes taking over the third, that leaves us with Ryan Spooner to find a place for. Spooner is a quick-footed player who is great at finding empty areas of the ice and moving the puck. Combining his ability with Hayes’ would produce a very good line. Spooner and Hayes are both fantastic passers, which could result in many pretty goals, should they play together. Especially considering that Jimmy Vesey could play the other wing next to Hayes, that makes for a very intriguing line combination.

But it is not a done deal that Hayes will start on the third line. As I said earlier, he has the most of experience on the second, so Quinn may be inclined to keep him where he is comfortable. If Hayes does retain his position centering the second line, Vlad Namestnikov will still play that wing. The dynamic of that line would be very different than under the previous circumstance, but would still have the potential to cause problems for opposing teams. If this occurs, Spooner may end up centering Filip Chytil on the third, but a more likely combination would be the other way around.

There is a wide range of options the Rangers need to evaluate with their depth at the center position. A likely lineup would have Hayes down on the third with Spooner, but these three players are so versatile that it is impossible to definitively claim where they will play. With that said, below is my prediction of how the line combinations may shape up.

Line LW C RW
1 Chris Kreider Mika Zibanejad Pavel Buchnevich
2 Vlad Namestnikov Filip Chytil Mats Zuccarello
3 Ryan Spooner Kevin Hayes Jesper Fast
4 Jimmy Vesey Lias Andersson Ville Meskanen