The New York Rangers have done a lot of work this offseason to change the dynamic of the team. Gerard Gallant has many challenges coming out of the gate. One of them will be balancing his lines.
In a previous article I noted that one of Gallant’s key decisions will be how he handles the overload at left wing. Artemi Panarin, Alexis Lafrenière, and Chris Kreider are on that side, but there’s been some talk of moving either Lafrenière or Kreider to the right.
This is a mistake in my opinion, especially if the Blueshirts want the most balanced roster possible.
Finding balance won’t be easy for the Rangers
The departure of Pavel Buchnevich to the Blues via trade brought an end to the popular KZB line. There is no guarantee that replacing Buch with Kaapo Kakko or Alexis Lafrenière would work. And if it isn’t Kakko, that puts him on a second line with Panarin and Ryan Strome. That line did not have much success last season, and Panarin even asked then head coach, David Quinn to put Colin Blackwell on it.
The reason why Panarin and Kakko didn’t work well is because Kakko likes to possess the puck and create space. That’s what Panarin does, and he usually wants his opposite wing to get into a shooting position or crash the net. Something Kakko struggled doing consistently on that line.
That’s why having fellow Russian, Vitali Kravtsov playing with the Breadman may work better. Kravtsov can handle the puck well, but has also shown that he can play without the puck. In the KHL and with his limited time in the NHL, he’s been lauded for his elite hockeyIQ. It’s a line combination that Gallant should at least try during preseason.
As for the top line, Mika Zibanejad can do it all but is at his best when he is shooting the puck. Lafrenière can help with Kreider’s old role of puck retrieval and Kakko can carry the puck in to generate offense. Both Zibanejad and Lafrenière would benefit from the setups and rebounds that Kakko’s stick handling and puck possession can create.
The fourth line, is your crash and bang unit. Ryan Reaves is a given to police the game on most nights. Morgan Barron will likely have first crack as the center with Kevin Rooney on the opposite flank. Sammy Blais is another option for that line to play wing.
Which brings me to probably the most important line to balance the forwards.
Chris Kreider should move down to the third line
Let’s begin with the fact that Kreider’s $6.5 million salary should have no bearing in the decision. Yes, I agree that it isn’t optimal to have a big salary on the third line. However, that contract was given to him before they won the lottery and selected Lafrenière first overall in 2020.
If the Rangers want to achieve the best balance that line should be Kreider centered by Filip Chytil with Barclay Goodrow on the right wing.
While I initially felt Goodrow should be the pivot, Chris Drury has already stated he sees Filip Chytil as a center. If Chytil continues to struggle in the face-off circle, Goodrow could take the draws and they can swap positions as soon as the puck is dropped.
This should also benefit Goodrow’s production. There’s no doubt that Kreider and Chytil are more offensively gifted than his old linemates from Tampa (Blake Coleman and Ondrej Palat). This third line will obviously be less physical, but with Kreider still playing the role of puck retriever it should have enough physicality to it.
Size wise, there is a lot of beef for this unit making them hard to handle. Kreider comes in at 6-3 and 216 lbs. Chytil and Goodrow both come in at 6-2 and around 205 lbs. That size also comes with speed, which will make life hard on the opposition defense every night.
Will Gallant put these units together? It is something I will be looking for in training camp.
NYR Proposed Lines
L1: Lafrenière – Zibanejad – Kakko
L2: Panarin – Strome – Kravtsov
L3: Kreider – Chytil – Goodrow
L4: Reaves – Barron – Rooney
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