The case for Panarin and Zibanejad on different lines
There was a chill in the air this morning when I left my house, I darn near almost had to put on the heater in my car and there was a hint of frost on the windshield. The calendar flipping to September and oncoming of the cooler weather is a clear indication that the beginning of the 2019-20 New York Rangers season will soon be upon us and the franchise-altering off season that saw John Davidson, Jeff Gorton and their staff reshape the Blueshirt roster is coming to a close.
Ranger fans, beat reporters and bloggers have spent the last several weeks opining about where pieces of the proverbial puzzle will fit once the team is announced, en mass, on October 3rd in front of what should be a juiced up Garden crowd.
There is a hefty amount of ambiguity up and down the Ranger roster. You ask ten different scribes for their input and you’ll probably get ten different line combinations. The one prevailing thought however, that seems to be commonplace among all those who follow the Blueshirts either professionally or fanatically, is that incumbent number one pivot Mika Zibanejad and newly acquired winger Artemi Panarin will join forces to give coach David Quinn a one-two punch to rival the best in the NHL. I.E. Broadway’s version of Edmonton’s Dynamic Duo Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl.
Admittedly, on the surface, it does make a lot of sense for coach Quinn to put his two best offensive players together on the same line. When you look below the surface and think about the types of skill sets the Swede and Russian bring to the table, the case could be made that separating these talented players and spreading the wealth around may be the better option.
Let’s start with Zibanejad: Ranger fans have watched the flamboyant center-man flourish into a bonafide star right in front of their skeptical eyes. In 2018-19. #93 took control of this franchise. He set career highs in goals, assists and points. And, in the humble opinion of your’s truly, should have the captain’s C sewn on to his sweater come opening night.
Mika is an alpha-dog. He needs the puck on his stick in the attacking zone. The offense runs through the the slender Swede and when he is on his game, he can truly control the action in a very elite way. When paired with lines mates Chris Kreider and Pavel Buchnevich last season, Zibanejad took his game to a whole new level. “CK” and “Buch” as they are referred to, were perfect compliments to Mika’s skill sets.
As for Panarin, he is also coming off a season in which he set career highs in assists and points. Artemi is an alpha-dog. He needs the puck on his stick in the attacking zone. The offense runs through the the charismatic Russian and when he is on his game, he can truly control the action in a very elite way. Line mates while in Columbus Pierre-Luc Dubois and Cam Atkinson were the perfect compliments for Artemi’s skill sets.
Wait a minute. Is there an echo in here?
In all seriousness folks, Panarin and Zibanejad are similar players with similar styles. Both are at their best when the puck is on their stick. Both love to roam around the offensive zone. Both are terrific goal scorers, but have a pass-first mentality when skating at even strength. Both are use to being the top-cat on their respective lines. Truth be told, Artemi Panarin is a winger in a center man’s body. Over his last two seasons playing in Ohio’s state capital, Panarin has more than double the amount of assists than goals.
So, while slotting in the team’s two most talented veteran forwards on the same line may seem like a good idea, it is my view that separating them is the better way to facilitate scoring depth and overall cohesive play. Keep the Kreider-Zibanejad-Buchnevich line in tact and pair Panarin with the two other forwards with whom the coaching staff feels best suits his skill sets.
Of course, if trailing late in the 3rd period and in desperate need of a jolt, coach Quinn can move #10 and #93 together, Ala Crosby and Malkin in Pittsburgh, to help generate more offensive production and get that elusive equalizer.
When the 2019-20 season commences next month at the World’s Most Famous Arena and the official line combinations are announced, I am sure the coaching staff will try Panarin and Zibanejad together at first and I certainly hope there is chemistry that develops into production. However, I hearken back to an episode of the iconic television show M*A*S*H* in which Col. Potter and Major Winchester, both of whom fancied themselves as masters of the card game bridge, lost to inferior opponents when forced to team up. Their egos and stubbornness were the cause for defeat.
There can only be only alpha-dog on a hockey line my friends.