Rangers Need to Reconstruct Their Fourth Line

The New York Rangers have been wildly inconsistent this season, but no aspect of their lineup has gone through as many changes as their fourth line. Night in and night out, it has featured different combinations and players, with the only constant being its lack of production.

Sammy Blais, Ryan Carpenter, Barclay Goodrow, Ryan Reaves, Julien Gauthier, and Jimmy Vesey have all spent time on the fourth line this season. Even Chris Kreider spent a period there amid his early struggles. Injuries up front to Vitali Kravtsov and Filip Chytil have forced head coach Gerard Gallant to alter his line combinations more than he has liked, but the fourth line remains in flux even with the injured forwards returning.

Reaves has been a scratch in four of the last five contests, with his role on the Rangers getting murkier by the minute (from “Ryan Reaves is trapped in Rangers limbo”, NY Post, 11/15/22). Carpenter, who was signed as a defensively responsible center, has been in and out of the lineup. Blais has remained in the lineup since his return from a preseason injury but has had more of a negative impact than a positive one.

Ryan Reaves New York Rangers
Ryan Reaves, New York Rangers (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

The Blueshirts have struggled to finish chances and hold leads this season, which has led to an up-and-down 8-6-3 start. And when the coach is unwilling to play his fourth line in any situation, it puts more strain and pressure on the rest of the team to take care of business.

If the Rangers hope to go on a run and regain their place atop the league, they will need to solidify their fourth line and start getting some production from it.

Rangers’ 4th Line by the Numbers

The fourth line’s mainstays are Carpenter, Reaves, and Blais. All three players have spent nearly all of their ice time on the fourth line, and none of their numbers are impressive. The trio has just five points combined on the season, despite a combined 40 games played.

Reaves has yet to record a point in 12 games, registering a 39.74 Corsi For percentage (CF%) on the season, the worst among current Rangers players. Per Natural Stat Trick, the Rangers have yielded 41 scoring chances when Reaves has been on the ice but have managed just 25 of their own.

Carpenter has a goal and an assist this season, with his goal coming in the Rangers’ latest win against the Arizona Coyotes. He has a CF% of 45.16 and, despite being more efficient than Reaves, has yet to make the impact Chris Drury hoped when he was brought in.

Arguably the most disappointing player has been Blais. Since being acquired in a trade that sent Pavel Buchnevich to St. Louis, and has since been regarded as one of the worst Rangers’ trades in recent memory, Blais has yet to score a goal as a member of the Rangers. This season, he has managed just three assists in 14 games played, one shy of the four he had through 14 games before tearing his ACL in 2021-22.

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But despite that, Blais still owns a 48.93 CF% at five-on-five, the best out of the trio. Ever since Gauthier was recalled from the Hartford Wolfpack, he, alongside Blais, has increased the impact of the fourth line. Gauthier, who has two goals and an assist in nine games, has been noticeable in every contest he’s played. He can play in the top six, but his size and speed enable him to create chances in a lesser role on the fourth line.

Sammy Blais, New York Rangers
Sammy Blais, New York Rangers (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

The numbers and the eye test tell the same story regarding the last line of Rangers’ forwards, but there is an ideal combination that could provide stability to the offensive lineup once the Blueshirts return to full strength.

Ideal Line Combinations for the Rangers

When discussing ideal line combinations, you account for everyone being healthy. Currently, Kravtsov is still battling an illness and tooth infection, leading to him missing even more time this season. But for the sake of the story, let’s look at what the Rangers’ lines should be when everyone is available and healthy.

  • First Line: Chris Kreider – Mika Zibanejad – Jimmy Vesey
  • Second Line: Artemi Panarin – Vincent Trocheck – Vitali Kravtsov
  • Third Line: Alexis Lafreniere – Filip Chytil – Kaapo Kakko
  • Fourth Line: Sammy Blais – Barclay Goodrow – Julien Gauthier

This seems like the deepest lineup the Rangers can put together and allows for the fourth line to have some semblance of life, with Gauthier’s speed, Blais’ physicality, and Goodrow’s two-way game. In fact, this threesome has played 11 minutes together this season, tallying a CF% of 58.52. That number is a vastly improved total from the likes of Blais, Carpenter, and Reaves, who together have a CF% of 40.35.

Gallant has already reunited the “Kid Line”, and has mix-and-matched his top-six en route to finding the combinations above. Since he has made those changes, the Rangers have arguably played their most consistent hockey, and Gallant deserves credit for that. Goodrow has been slotted all over the lineup with Kravtsov’s absence, but the Panarin and Trocheck duo are seemingly very comfortable with the former first-round pick on their wing, making Goodrow’s permanent role likely on that fourth line.

The prototypical fourth line has evolved as the game has changed. Big enforcers no longer need to roam the ice for eight minutes a night. Now, you need one that is mobile enough and skilled enough to be able to generate chances off a forecheck and not have a significant drop-off in play when they are on the ice.

For the Rangers that drop-off in play is evident, and they seem to be in the process of fixing it. As I mentioned, both Reaves and Carpenter have been scratched recently, and when fully healthy, that seems like the correct way to go. Stability and improved play are needed from the Rangers’ fourth line, and with these changes, the Blueshirts will become a much deeper team.