NYR Forward Depth A Matchup Nightmare

Photo Credit: Getty Images - Jared Silber

Photo Credit: Getty Images – Jared Silber

When the season began there was one thing that was clear about the 2016-17 New York Rangers, they are deep.

This group is deep up front in a way completely different than the 2013-14 team that fell just short in the Stanley Cup. This team has the capability to roll 4 skillful, responsible lines in a way that not many NHL teams can compete with. If these first 6 games have been any indication for the season to come, the Rangers are going to be extremely hard to defend against. Although AV has already began with his unnecessary line shuffling, let’s go through some of the production we’ve seen line by line:

First Line

Kreider – Zibanejad – Buchnevich/Nash
For all intents and purposes this has been the Rangers top line so far this year, and if it weren’t for both Kreider and Buchnevich catching a case of the spasms (those are a thing for the Rangers right now) I’d assume this is going to continue being the top line. Chris Kreider has been an absolute monster early on, playing the north-south game all Rangers fans have been dying for him to harness. His numbers early season are easily the most eye-catching on the team, tied for the team lead with 3 goals while leading the team with 7 points. Zibanejad seems to be a steal from Ottawa, showing a booming shot, great vision, and electric moves at the center position. He is also producing at a high clip so far this season, with 6 points, and 2 goals on 19 shots, while maintaining nearly 58% at the dot. Possibly the most exciting part of Mika’s game comes on the power play, providing a right-handed triggerman that this team has so desperately needed. Meanwhile, the right wing has seen action by both the rookie Buchnevich and Nash, who have combined for 4 points. Although the sample size is extremely small, Buchnevich has shown how he was able to compete in the KHL at such a young age. In a game that is often scrutinized and driven by possession, Buch is leading all Rangers forwards with 64.7 CF%, albeit in just 2 games.

Second Line

Vesey – Stepan – Zuccarello
The first line that comes to mind when thinking about these 3 together is consistency. For parts of 7, but mostly the last 4 years Zuccarello and Stepan have been key cogs in the Rangers lineup. Over that time each has seen their role expanded, with Zuccarello being the creative energy powering the first power play unit, and Stepan providing solid two-way play while wearing an A on his sweater as a veteran at just 26 years old. The Stepan – Zuccarello duo combine for the highest ATOI of any forwards, averaging 18 minutes per game. To their left they have had the pleasure of playing with last years Hobey Baker award winner, and this offseason’s biggest surprise, Jimmy Vesey. This young man has done just about everything right through 5 games. One aspect of Vesey’s game that has been a pleasant surprise is his presence as a powerful net-front presence. Countless times already I’ve seen him making a line to the net on offensive rushes, surely helping contribute to his tie for the team lead in both.

Third Line

Miller – Hayes – Nash
This is one line that opened the season and had all the opportunity to become one of, if not, the Rangers primary offensive zone start line. Coming off “down” years for both Hayes and Nash, and a breakout campaign for JT Miller, I was unsure of how the usage may look for these 3. Although injuries broke this line up early, and they have been scrambled since, both Miller and Hayes have seen over 56% of their deployment in the defensive zone. Pretty impressive given that both of these players could have been projected for 40-point seasons this season. The two have combined for 3 goals and 3 assists, but clearly playing important and varied minutes. As for Nash, the 32-year old seems to have some of the best skating legs I’ve seen in his time on Broadway. For the very few of you that follow me on the Twitter machine, I’ve made mention that on a team full of youth, you can tell where Nash sets himself apart. He has been a monster in the offensive zone, getting to the dirty areas and generating chances, while also maintaining his status as the best two-way forward on the team. Anywhere you put Nash he’s going to make the line better, as he is the only non-rookie above 50% in terms of offensive zone deployment, and his 20 shots only trail Kreider’s 23 for the team lead.

Fourth Line

Grabner/Lindberg – Jooris – Pirri/Fast
Now this is where the Rangers depth is, well, DEEP. At the onset of the season AV made mention about having 3 skilled lines, and a fourth that is capable of handling defensive zone and PK opportunities. Fortunately for the Rangers they have ample bodies to mix and match to whatever the matchup calls for. Considering the flow of the NHL, and the dynamic play of the Rangers up and down the lineup this line will be forced to maintain a scoring presence. Although I’d like to see them all stick around, it is almost certain Jooris will be waived with the next healthy body returning. Lindberg will slide into the center on a rotation of Pirri, Fast, and Grabner on the wings. Grabner is an established bottom-6 NHL player and has contributed with his speed and penalty killing abilities. Jesper Fast continues to be one of my favorite Rangers, playing an all around solid game, with possession numbers that prove his value to this bottom-6. Finally, Pirri seems to be the hidden gem, that little something up their sleeve. Pirri may end up seeing limited games and minutes down the stretch, but I’ve said since they acquired him that he does not need to be in the lineup every night to be a difference maker. His presence on the power play, opposite of Zibanejad, has provided a shoot first mentality to the specials team unit that has all the makings to be lethal.

The depth that this team is carrying up front is most certainly its biggest strength right now, and must continue to be in order to pick up pace for a questionable defensive group. However, just as he has constructed this offense, I have full belief that GM Jeff Gorton will be active in the trade market. One thing is certain about this team early on, they are going to be a matchup nightmare for just about any defense in the NHL. Side note! I want to give a big thank you to the boss man around these parts for giving me an opportunity to share some of my thoughts on this Rangers team.

I’m excited to be a part of the NYR_FullTilt community, and I look forward to the dialogue that forums like this provide for us fans. I hope you enjoyed my first post, make sure to follow me on Twitter @_gartenberg. Thanks!