It seems like the New York Rangers roster is ready to be set in stone for the 2019-20 season. With that said, it is now time to see where everyone fits in together.
In the midst of a second buyout period, there may be some changes. But, the forward group should not be directly affected by any buyouts. Defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk was bought out by the Rangers, following a very confusing, yet eventful evening on July 31.
After Pavel Buchnevich re-signed and avoided arbitration, the clock began on the buyout window three days later. The Rangers had until 5 pm on July 31 to make a buyout and didn’t. Then, New York news outlets began stating that the buyout didn’t start until Monday, Aug. 1, due to Buchnevich signing on Friday, July 26. All in all, Shattenkirk was ultimately bought out by the Rangers after 119 games in two seasons.
As we inch ever so slowly through this offseason, it becomes more and more exciting to see what the Rangers will look like come October. Let’s dive into what the four forward lines could look like.
First Line – Panarin, Zibanejad, Buchnevich
Get ready to see some fireworks from this first line. Mika Zibanejad retakes the helm as the Rangers future and top center. On his right will be recently re-signed Buchnevich, who is getting paid $3.25 million over the next two seasons. Filling out on the left side, is none other than newly acquired Artemi Panarin. He is the second-highest-paid player in the NHL this upcoming season at $11.642 million.
Zibanejad led the Rangers in scoring last season with 30 goals and 44 assists, playing in all 82 games. The Steven McDonald Extra Effort Award winner from last season has a legitimate chance at being the captain of the Rangers, depending on Chris Kreider’s situation. If Kreider isn’t re-signed after the 2019-20 season is over, then it should be Zibanejad’s team to lead. Last season was a career season for him, and the linemates on his left and right just got a whole lot better.
Buchnevich had a decent year himself with setting a career-high in goals with 21. It was so good, that the Rangers decided to bring him back for the next two seasons. With the right side of this team being very inexperienced, it makes sense for him to play the most minutes. He is seemingly getting better with experience, and more minutes will certainly help.
Panarin comes to the Rangers for his fifth season in the NHL and has contributed over 70 points in each of his first four seasons. This season’s success for the team will depend on his performance. Will he be able to continue his dominance, now, under the bright lights of Madison Square Garden?
This line brings unequaled excitement to Rangers’ hopefuls. The trio has an opportunity to cause serious damage to opposing defensive cores and goaltenders. With explosive speed and sharpshooting accuracy, this line can be a sparkplug for any situation. Seeing a 10-93-83 lineup for the opening faceoff of the 2019-20 season will surely have the Garden rocking.
Second Line – Kreider, Strome, Kakko
This second line won’t have nearly as much firepower as the top tier, but could still be exciting. This season will be the emergence of Kappo Kakko, just a few months removed from being drafted by the Rangers at number two in the 2019 NHL Entry Draft. This line also features Ryan Strome, a dependable second-line center behind Zibanejad. And, last but not least, the uncertain future of the aforementioned Kreider makes this season his most crucial as a member of the Blueshirts.
Centering the line will be Strome, who was very streaky during last season. Before coming to New York, he struggled with the Edmonton Oilers and only produced a measly three points in 18 games. It cost Ryan Spooner to trade for Strome, and it certainly worked out in the Rangers favor. In 63 games with the Rangers, he netted 18 goals and helped on 15 others.
On the left side, it will be Kreider… for now. There is a lot that can happen to the left-winger this season, which very well may be his last on Broadway. The trade deadline will be interesting for him, as he may follow his former teammate’s footsteps. Mats Zuccarello and Kevin Hayes were dealt right before the trade deadline last season. Or, it could go the other way, and more money-saving moves can be made and Kreider gets what he deserves, which is a lucrative deal.
On the right side, Kakko will be making his debut for the Rangers. The second overall selection from June’s draft will be lining up alongside two veteran forwards that can groom him and make him feel comfortable at the NHL level. He is one of the most exciting reasons to watch the Blueshirts this season, as he comes in with an incredible amount of hype and extremely high expectations.
This line can be very dependable for production, but it could also have some growing pains. Especially in Kakko, who was selected after Jack Hughes by the New Jersey Devils. The two will likely be fighting for the Calder Trophy, and more importantly for the possibility of a playoff spot.
Additionally, Kreider is in the last season of his contract and the Rangers are still in a crunch after the buyout of Shattenkirk. With his future with the Rangers hanging in the balance, his performance will be under a microscope. Right behind a powerful first line, this second line has a lot of expectations going into the 2019-20 season.
Third Line – Namestnikov, Chytil, Kravtsov
For the third line trio, there is a lot of creativity here. Each of these players has an ability to turn on the jets and play with the puck on a string through the opposing defenders. With that said, depending on performance, they have the most opportunity to go up in the lineup, or down.
At center, it will be Filip Chytil. No one was more exciting than the centerman last season, and each time he touched the puck the fans were left in awe. This season, with an influx of even younger talent coming into the lineup, he will still remain a main component of this team. Despite all of the positive things, he still needs to figure out his faceoff game. With a disappointing 38.9% faceoff win percentage, there is room for improvement in that area.
On the left side, if he isn’t moved before the season begins, Vladislav Namestnikov will take the spot. After coming over from the Tampa Bay Lightning, he hasn’t exactly lived to expectations. That is completely understandable as he went from playing alongside two of the best players in the NHL, Nikita Kucherov and Steven Stamkos in Tampa Bay. In 97 games with the Rangers over the past season and change, he scored 13 goals and 22 assists. Although his two line-mates now, won’t have much experience in the NHL, they both have a positive upside.
On the right, there is also a fresh, new face, with the seventh pick of the 2018 NHL Entry Draft, Vitali Kravtsov. Coming over from the KHL, he now has an opportunity to make a name for himself alongside his other youthful teammates. At 6-foot-4, he brings a lot to the table as a third-line winger, especially with more skillful linemates in Namestnikov and Chytil.
This line spells risk all over it, but it’s a risk that the Rangers should be willing to take. All three forwards have a chance to wow Rangers’ fans night in and night out. Plus, each of these players has the best opportunity to be promoted to the second line or demoted to the fourth line.
Fourth Line – Lemieux, Howden/Andersson, Fast
Manning the fourth line will be a revolving door of AHL standouts and the NHL unnoticeable. There are a plethora of names to throw into the three positions, but these are the most deserving.
On the left side, it gets tricky with the situation between Brendan Lemieux and the Rangers. It is his spot to lose, but he is not currently signed. For now, It seems that it will be the potential breakout of Lias Andersson. He may not see the entire season at the NHL level and instead transition between first-line minutes with the AHL affiliate, the Hartford Wolf Pack, and fourth-line minutes with the Blueshirts. It is entirely up to him to control his own destiny and stay at the NHL level, with the possibility of being promoted.
In the middle, it will likely be youngster Brett Howden. He got his start last season with a nearly full season with the Rangers but still has a lot to prove going into year number two. After sprinting out of the gate with 12 points in his first 20 games, the next 46 games only featured him on the score sheet a total of 11 times. If Lemieux is re-signed, Howden will likely swap with Andersson. When one comes up to New York, the other will go down to Hartford.
Jesper Fast will be holding the right side. As one of the longer-tenured Rangers, he provides more of a leadership role for his young linemates. He adds to the tenacity of this line, while also being a player that can score. Last season, as one of the assistant captains of the team, he netted eight goals and added 12 assists in 66 games.
The fourth line doesn’t get the bulk of minutes, as it is mostly used to keep the game moving along and giving the players on the higher lines a breather. With the last few seasons featuring a terrible fourth line, there is a lot of hope here. Each of these players has grit coupled with a good-not-great skill set.
What To Make Of It All
Well, you can take these projections whatever way you want it. There is a lot of room for growth, and honestly, there is no way to say right now where the pieces will land come October. There is also no way to see if the youth will live up to the hype. They could be a playoff team this season, or finish at the bottom of the NHL with Rangers’ fans scratching their heads once more.
But this can be certain, the Rangers made the right moves to develop this roster. Each of these four lines gives an element of thrill, with a slight dose of anxiety. This “rebuild” went out as fast as it came in and the Rangers have something that has been missing since the 2016-17 season: hope.