Rangers Lineup Overview: Who Joins the Core?

via Blue Line Station

The New York Rangers are coming off of their rebuild, and more importantly, a season which saw them finish 7th in the NHL, 2nd in the Metro division, as well as reach the conference finals, losing to the back-to-back defending champs. However, for every team not named the Colorado Avalanche, they need to make changes to their roster in order to improve, and those changes are more than likely to come from within the organization.

Defensive Outlook

On defense, there is not a lot that is set to change. The top two pairs for the Rangers are set: Ryan Lindgren with Adam Fox, and K’Andre Miller with Jacob Trouba. With Trouba named captain and a breakout season for Miller, that secondary pairing is only going to get better. Furthermore, prospect Braden Schneider made his NHL debut last year, and played a significant portion of games, albeit not spectacularly. Despite this, he will be looking to improve, and Nils Lundkvist and Zac Jones will be clawing at the doors to get that 6th roster spot. Still, we could yet again see that spot go to infamous Ranger Libor Hajek.

Defensive Prospects

The two most notable prospects looking to push their way onto the roster are Lundkvist and Jones, and it looks like at least one of them will be given a spot.

Starting with Lundkvist, the Swedish defenseman is a former first round pick in 2018. While highly touted at the time, he has yet to break into the NHL. Scoring 15 points in 34 games last season for the Hartford Wolf Pack of the AHL, time will tell if Lundkvist lives up to his potential. He will be given the opportunity to do so, and may even look to replace Braden Schneider on the 3rd pairing if Schneider struggles out of the gate. Lundkvist really shines in his offensive game, having put up multiple 30 point seasons with Luleå of the SHL. This proves he can be relied on as an offensive defenseman, and with a 4% chance at becoming a star and a 42% chance at becoming a full time NHLer according to JFresh’s prospect player cards, he can look to jump start his career in training camp and in the 2022-23 season.

Secondly, we have Zac Jones. Drafted in the 3rd round in 2019, it seems as though the Rangers are eager to see how he can perform with the team. Scoring 35 points in 52 games for the Wolf Pack last year, Jones proved that his offensive game could translate from the NCAA to the AHL. Now it is time for him to make that next step, as he is looking to build upon a year last year that saw him progress greatly. On most depth charts, it looks like Jones is the preferred pick over Lundkvist, but we will have to wait and see for training camp. Jones has a 8% chance of becoming a star and a 39% chance of being a full-time NHLer; but regardless of these stats, he will definitely get a shot at a roster spot come September. A pairing with Schneider would likely serve to benefit both players, as Schneider struggled particularly in his offensive game.

Lastly, even though he played 43 games last season, Schneider is still considered a prospect by many standards. At a 4% chance of becoming a star, the offensive outlook may look bleak for Schneider, but it is clear that the Rangers value his size at 6’2″, 202 pounds. At times last year, he struggled to control his size and play, however he can easily improve on that with the help of the coaching staff, as well as captain Jacob Trouba, who has become notable for his hits that walk the line of being suspendible. Although it is likely he remains on the roster come opening night, there is always a chance his spot gets taken in training camp by one of the aforementioned players.

Offensive Outlook

When viewing the forward core, it is important to note the departures from last year’s roster. Kevin Rooney, Andrew Copp, Frank Vatrano, Ryan Strome, and Tyler Motte are the forwards that have either left in free agency, or remained unsigned. With Vincent Trocheck signed for the 2C role, ideally to play with Artemi Panarin, and Mika Zibanejad or Chris Kreider being inseparable, the top 6 seems to be set, as Alexis Lafrenière and Kaapo Kakko look eager to take the first and second line right wing spots respectively. Where it gets particularly interesting, however, is in the bottom 6. Let’s look at the candidates to take spots on the roster, and where the prospects fit in.

Forward Prospects

First, we have the Rangers 2018 first round draft pick in Vitali Kravtsov. Kravtsov, whose had an up and down tenure with the Rangers organization refusing to play for the team’s AHL affiliate in Hartford, seems to be willing to give it another go; and the Rangers seem to be equally as eager to put all of that in the past. With Copp gone, Kravtsov could easily side beside Panarin and Trocheck as that second line right winger. However, if the Rangers prefer to ease him into the lineup, he could play alongside Filip Chytil in a revamped kids line. Despite only playing 19 games last year for Traktor of the KHL, he put up 13 points, and is still a very highly thought of prospect in the NHL according to JFresh’s prospect card, with a 17% chance of being a star and a 91% chance of being a full-time NHLer. He will most definitely see playing time in the NHL next year; its only a matter of where in the lineup he slots, and whether or not he lives up to that potential.

Another first round pick could also be looking to make the roster come September, as 2022 World Junior champion Brennan Othmann made a name for himself at the aforementioned tournament. With his big physical play, as well as the skillset that got him drafted in the first round, we could see him look to play fourth line minutes. Furthermore, if he is granted a nine game tryout in the NHL (so his contract is still slide eligible), and his play make the front office decide to keep him around, we can see the new kid line come to fruition: Othmann, Chytil, and Kravtsov. Othmann scored a whopping 97 points in 66 OHL games, but the Rangers may want to give him time to develop. He has a 3% chance to become a star and a 21% chance to become a full time NHLer, but that can easily increase if he is given the time and space to develop. There is no rush for Othmann, so we will see what the Rangers decide to do come training camp.

Fourth Liners

So with Othmann and Kravtsov possibly joining the Rangers, where does that leave the rest of the core? Well, let’s look at who else the Rangers have. As previously mentioned, Ryan Carpenter joins the ranks. Ryan Reaves, Sammy Blais, Dryden Hunt, and Julien Gauthier are also options for the fourth line, or in case Othmann isn’t ready for NHL minutes, available to join Chytil and Kravtsov on the third line. Regardless, there is zero doubt that Barclay Goodrow will be the Rangers fourth line center.

If the fourth line is guaranteed to have Blais and Goodrow, it is likely that Carpenter joins them. His defensive game is likely the reason why the Rangers signed him. Having that shut-down fourth line right behind a scoring, speedy third line could really put the hurt on teams, especially during the playoffs. But if Blais is higher in the lineup, don’t be suprised to see a mix of Gauthier, Reaves, and Hunt amongst the rotation of fourth liners.

Breakout Candidates: The (Old) Kids

Now that we looked at most of the lineup, excluding the established players, lets look at who can break out in the 2022-23 season.

Alexis Lafrenière: Playing limited minutes last year, and with the departure of Copp and Vatrano, Lafrenière will be put in a spot where he can live up to that first overall potential. He scored 31 points in 79 games last year but he excelled in the playoffs; expect that number to jump.

Filip Chytil: Chytil had a decent 2021-22 season, but where he made a name for himself was in the 2022 playoffs. Chytilmania returned, and we will see if he can turn the Rangers’ third line into a scoring line.

Kaapo Kakko: Last amongst the kid line is Kakko. Kakko may never score a bunch, but if he can turn into a 200 foot player, similar to fellow countryman Aleksander Barkov, then the Rangers may have found themselves a gem at second overall.

K’Andre Miller: Every Ranger fan will remember that highlight reel goal that he scored against the Panthers, going coast to coast and making a beautiful move. Much like this kid line, he made some amazing plays in the 2022 playoffs. Partnered with Trouba once again, he will no doubt exceed in his junior year.

It is clear that this 2022 playoff run was amazing for their development. It cannot be understated the importance of this run, and I think every diehard Ranger fan will remember “The Shift” for the rest of their lives.

The Rangers are looking to improve in 2023, and while this is an optimistic outlook, the ceiling of this team is the Stanley Cup. We will see come June whether or not this Rangers squad hoists the cup for the first time since 1994.

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