New York Rangers need to address anemic third line

Credit: Wendell Cruz-USA TODAY Sports

The New York Rangers have a glaring issue that needs to be fixed soon.

Filip Chytil leaving the country to fly back home to Czechia in order to recover from a suspected concussion, means Nick Bonino is playing way out of position as the team’s third-line center. Even when Kaapo Kakko returns, that doesn’t change the Rangers’ desperate need to get more offense from that unit.

While it’s unfair to criticize Bonino, since the veteran was brought in to anchor the fourth-line and play a key checking role, the Rangers need more production from that position. He’s simply been unable to generate any offense or set up plays for two capable wingers in Will Cuylle and Jonny Brodzinski.

Related: Chytil returns to Czechia to recover

New York Rangers need to address third line

NHL: Boston Bruins at New York Rangers
Danny Wild-USA TODAY Sports

Starting with the team’s 6-2 loss to the Ottawa Senators back on December 5th, the Rangers have gone 7-6-0. During that span, the players on that line have produced a grand total of 4 goals and 5 assists.

Here’s a breakdown for each player:

  • Nick Bonino: 0 goals, 2 assists in 12 games with a -1 rating
  • Will Cuylle: 3 goals, 0 assists in 13 games with a -1 rating
  • Jonny Brodzinski: 1 goal, 3 assists in 13 games with a -5 rating

In hindsight, a few of those losses could have been flipped to wins had they gotten any kind of production from their third line. The Rangers at the very least could’ve gotten a point versus the Edmonton Oilers (12/22) or the Florida Panthers (12/29), both games a 4-3 loss.

It should be noted that Cuylle tallied versus Edmonton, but that goal came with a second left in the game to make the score look better than what it was. Meanwhile, Brodzinski’s goal came on the power play in a win over the L.A. Kings, subbing in for Mika Zibanejad, who was in the penalty box.

So what can the Rangers do?

Eventually, Kakko will return, and it would be wise to try Jonny Brodzinski in the middle, a position he’s familiar with playing in Hartford. Of course, that should not be the long term fix. That goes double if Chytil isn’t expected to return anytime soon.

Head coach Peter Laviolette, who has been very hesitant to shuffle lines, needs to do something. It wouldn’t be a terrible idea to move Brodzinski to center against the Chicago Blackhawks when they face-off on Thursday night.

Getting Bonino back to his spot centering the fourth-line needs to happen. For now, Barclay Goodrow can move up to play right wing on the third line until a better fix can be conjured up. There’s also the possibility of placing Adam Edstrom on the third-line and keeping Goodrow right where he is, thus scratching Tyler Pitlick.

At the end of the day, the Rangers can’t keep hoping that their top-six and power play will produce at a high rate for the remainder of the season. President and GM Chris Drury has to address this significant problem, but that depends entirely on the health of Chytil, which is a big unknown at the moment.

While the word is that Chytil’s working hard to play again this season, when that will be is up in the air. Although his $4.437M cap hit is on LTIR, the Rangers can’t just go out and trade for a center to replace him right now unless he’s out for the rest of the regular-season.

“Fil is progressing slowly,” Laviolette said regarding Chytil returning to Czechia. “It’s an opportunity for him to head home, reset, and continue to move forward. When he comes back, we’ll welcome him with open arms.”

Ultimately, the best scenario for everyone, is for Chytil to recover quickly and return soon. However, until there’s more clarity on his situation, there’s not much Drury can do due to the salary cap. That puts the onus on Laviolette to start finding a more productive combination for the third-line as soon as tomorrow.

If it’s determined that Chytil will miss the rest of the regular-season, then Drury can start planning on trading for a center. Two names that stand out are high-profile UFA’s Elias Lindholm and Steven Stamkos.

Of the two, Lindholm has a cap hit of $4.8M and easier to fit than Stamkos’ $8.5M. Regardless, either player will cost at least a first-round pick and more to acquire, with a good likelihood that they won’t be signing on Broadway in the summer.

Some other riskier UFA options are Montreal’s Sean Monahan, or Seattle’s Alexander Wennberg. Neither is guaranteed to produce or stay healthy once they get to New York, but both are better options than keeping Bonino centering the third-line.

If you want to win a Stanley Cup, sometimes these are exactly the type of risks you need to take.

NHL Stats used for this article.

Anthony Scultore is the founder of Forever Blueshirts and has been covering the New York Rangers and the NHL... More about Anthony Scultore

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