Rangers Must Find Right Linemates for Panarin

Last season, the New York Rangers’ stars led them to the postseason for the first time in five years and helped them advance to the Eastern Conference Final. Artemi Panarin had another fantastic season despite spending much of it on a line with Ryan Strome and Dryden Hunt rather than the team’s other star forwards. This season, New York must prioritize finding better linemates for Panarin, who will help him play to his full potential at even strength.

Panarin’s 2021-22 Season

Though Panarin’s linemates struggled during the 2021-22 season, the star winger consistently generated scoring chances and produced offensively. He repeatedly set up his linemates, but far too many times, they failed to translate his passes into goals.

Artemi Panarin New York Rangers
Artemi Panarin, New York Rangers (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

In 2021-22, the Rangers had one of the best power-play units in the NHL, with Panarin and Adam Fox at the point. They set up Mika Zibanejad for one-timers and found Chris Kreider in front of the net for deflections. Panarin had five goals and 32 assists on the power play in the regular season and also scored with a quick wrist shot through traffic on the power play in overtime of Game 7 in New York’s first-round matchup against the Pittsburgh Penguins.

While Panarin will always try to set up his linemates, he also has a strong, accurate wrist shot and great hands in front of the net, as he finished the season with 22 goals and 74 assists in 75 games. He scored eight goals and 32 assists in his final 27 games, quickly finding chemistry with Andrew Copp, whom the Rangers acquired just before the trade deadline.

He did not play his best in the postseason but still finished with 6 goals and 10 assists in 20 playoff games. Not only did he score a clutch goal in Round 1, but he also made a great play in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Final against the Tampa Bay Lightning with the series tied at two and the score tied in the third period. He made a perfect no-look pass to Strome, who whiffed on the puck with a wide-open net. New York lost the game and the series.

Panarin’s Potential Linemates This Season

The Rangers lost both Copp and Strome to free agency this offseason, but they signed center Vincent Trocheck to a seven-year, $39.375 million contract. Last season, he played for the Carolina Hurricanes, finishing with 21 goals and 30 assists in 81 games. He also won 54.6 percent of his faceoffs, while Strome won just 44.4 percent of his.

Related: New York Rangers Sign Vincent Trocheck to 7-Year Deal

Though Panarin formed excellent chemistry with Strome during their three seasons together, Trocheck will likely center his line this season and could become very valuable to the Rangers. Not only is he better than Strome at the dot, but he also plays with more physicality and has put up similar numbers to Strome without the luxury of playing alongside Panarin.

Vincent Trocheck Carolina Hurricanes
Vincent Trocheck could center Artemi Panarin’s line this season (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

While Trocheck seems like the obvious choice at center, the Rangers have to find a winger to play on that line, and there are a few possibilities. If Zibanejad, Kreider, and Alexis Lafreniere form a line, then there is a good chance that Kaapo Kakko will end up with Trocheck and Panarin.

Kakko has had a few looks as a top-six forward, and while he has played well defensively, he has struggled to produce and has missed time with injuries. He is a responsible player with the potential to thrive in a top-six role, but he needs to play with more consistency and intensity.

The Rangers also have a lot of wingers in their prospect pool, including Vitali Kravtsov, Brennan Othmann, and Will Cuylle. All three are highly skilled and have the potential to become effective forwards in the NHL, though Othmann (19 years old) and Cuylle (20 years old) may not be ready to make the jump to the league yet. Kravtsov already requested a trade from the Rangers, but he showed flashes of his potential in the Kontinental Hockey League (KHL). Perhaps one of these prospects can break through and help boost Panarin’s line.

Rangers & Panarin Moving Forward

The Rangers have made the jump from rebuilding to contending, and they need to get the most out of their best players. That means finding skilled linemates who can capitalize on scoring chances when Panarin sets them up. Without his linemates from last season, New York needs to find the right match to play alongside their star winger.