We’re still over a month away from the start of Rangers training camp. The team has appeared to make all the moves they wanted to in free agency, prospect development camp is all finished, and the dead period of the NHL off-season is upon us.
While many hockey fans are waiting on the inevitable trade of Matthew Tkachuk, the Rangers have a balanced and loaded group of talent that will be looking to get back to the Eastern Conference Finals for the second straight year.
With training camp over a month away, let’s take a look at what a potential starting lineup looks like for the Blue shirts.
Rangers Forward Lines
1st Line: Chris Kreider, Mika Zibanejad, Alexis Lafreniere
I was a big defender of the “Kid Line” in last year’s playoffs and think a big reason why the series did not go seven games was because of Gallant changing up the line too much. I really wanted to keep Lafreniere with Chytil and Kakko but the loss of Frank Vatrano and other forwards made it almost impossible not to have the former first overall pick on the top line. Lafreniere joins Mika and Kreider on the first line and it could offer a nice blend of firepower, while allowing Panarin to work with Trocheck more.
2nd Line: Artemi Panarin, Vincent Trocheck, Vitali Kravtsov
Whatever ends up happening with Kravtsov will be decided in camp. I think he ends up playing in a prominent role this year if he isn’t traded simply out of need. Pairing him with Panarin and Trocheck wouldn’t hurt either. Trocheck is the big off-season signing for the Rangers this season, and paired with Panarin, could put up career numbers. Could I see a Panarin/Mika/Kreider first line? Absolutely. But I think Gallant and Drury would want a more balanced offense and move Panarin with Trocheck.
3rd Line: Julien Gauthier, Filip Chytil, Kaapo Kakko
Well, I kept 2/3 of the kid line together. Chytil and Kakko worked wonders together in the postseason, and I’m really excited to see them continue to grow together. You can substitute Gauthier with Sammy Blais, but the 26 year old is coming off ACL surgery and he will need his time to get back to 100%. Putting him in the starting line-up right away would be foolish as he recovers. Gauthier signed a one year deal to stay with New York this season and has a lot to prove. Working with Chytil and Kakko’s speed will help.
4th Line: Barclay Goodrow, Ryan Carpenter, Ryan Reaves
If the Rangers somehow bring back Tyler Motte, you can replace him with Reaves in this spot. Until then, a Goodrow/ Carpenter/Reaves fourth line is a solid mix of size, power and physicality. They won’t be called on to score a lot with the top three lines riddled with offensive firepower, but they are good enough to match any physical fourth line in the league.
Rangers Defensive Pairs
1st Pair: Ryan Lindgren, Adam Fox
2nd Pair: K’Andre Miller, Jacob Trouba
3rd Pair: Zac Jones, Braden Schneider
If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Lindgren and Fox are one of the top defensive pairings in hockey. Miller and Trouba are a solid second pair and will continue to grow together. You could replace Jones with any of the Rangers top prospects in camp, but Schneider’s development will be a big key for the 2022 season. If he continues to develop well, the Rangers will have a lot of flexibility with a loaded group of defensive prospects.
Igor Shesterkin, Jaroslav Halak
When you have the best goaltender in the league, it allows you to not stress too much over his backup. Shesterkin is the reigning Vezina Trophy winner and will only get better after his first deep playoff run. As long as Shesterkin is healthy, Halak will be a serviceable response to the young superstar. The former Islander came in cheap, and on his last legs. The Rangers won’t ask him to do too much, but Halak has the numbers to prove he can be good when called upon.
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