Rangers’ Panarin Line off to Strong Start

Last season the New York Rangers struggled to find the right linemates for star winger Artemi Panarin, as Ryan Strome had an inconsistent season. They also could not find the right fit at right wing until they acquired Andrew Copp from the Winnipeg Jets at the trade deadline. However, this season Panarin is off to an excellent start playing alongside Vincent Trocheck and Alexis Lafreniere as they have quickly formed chemistry together.

Trocheck and Lafreniere Are Helping Panarin

The Rangers’ most significant addition of the offseason was signing Trocheck to a seven-year contract. If he plays to his potential this season, he will be a big upgrade as the team’s second-line center. Last season he won 54.6 percent of his faceoffs with the Carolina Hurricanes while Strome won just 44.4 percent with the Rangers. Additionally, Trocheck and Lafreniere both won battles for the puck, outworked opposing defensemen, and helped the Rangers keep control of the puck in the offensive zone.

Related: Rangers Need Trocheck & Zibanejad to Set the Pace Next Season

Lafreniere is a good fit on the line, as he plays with physicality, drives to the net, has quick hands, and has a very good shot. He scored 19 goals last season, and all of them came at even strength.

Alexis Lafreniere New York Rangers
Alexis Lafreniere has two assists in the New York Rangers’ first three games (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

The trio played well in the Rangers’ first game of the season against the Tampa Bay Lightning and generated chances, but star goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy kept them from scoring. However, they broke through in their next game as they led New York to a 7-3 victory against the Minnesota Wild. They sustained pressure in the offensive zone, made cross-ice passes to set each other up, and capitalized on their scoring chances. Panarin had one goal and three assists, Trocheck had one goal and one assist, and Lafreniere had two assists.

Trocheck also came up with a spinning, cross-ice pass to set up Dryden Hunt for a game-tying goal in the third period of the Rangers’ game against the Jets. Though they lost the game, Panarin’s line played well, once again creating lots of scoring chances.

The Importance of Panarin’s Line

Panarin is one of the best playmakers in the NHL right now and the Rangers need to get the best out of him. Last season he repeatedly set up linemates but they failed to score on many of those opportunities, including a couple of brutal whiffs with open nets in the playoffs. The star winger still had a great season with 96 points (37 of them on the power play) but his linemates let him down.

Artemi Panarin New York Rangers
Artemi Panarin has six points in the New York Rangers’ first three games (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

The Rangers also have a very talented top line of Mika Zibanejad, Chris Kreider, and Kaapo Kakko. They are also off to a strong start and ideally, head coach Gerard Gallant will be able to keep Panarin on a separate line instead of playing him with Kreider and Zibanejad, as doing so gives the team two lines that they can rely on to produce offensively.

Last postseason, Zibanejad’s line stepped up for the Rangers and their opponents repeatedly played their best defenders when his line was on the ice. Though they have only played three games thus far this season, Panarin and his linemates are showing that they are capable of playing just as well as the Zibanejad line. If they can continue to play this way, defending against both lines will become much more difficult for their opponents.

For Panarin’s Line Moving Forward

To reach their full potential, the Rangers need to find the right linemates for Panarin, and these first three games have been very encouraging. His line has stood out with their strong forecheck and offensive production. While he has already proved himself with New York, Trocheck, and Lafreniere now must prove that they can play at this level consistently for the entire season. If they can, it will be a big boost not only for Panarin but the entire team.

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