With the preseason injuries to Captain Chris Drury and Assistant Captain Vinny Prospal the New York Rangers were able to skate on making some tough decisions when it comes to their roster for this season. We have a good sense of which 14 forwards they will carry for the season, as the assumption is when Drury comes back for Friday the Roster move will be to send Todd White to Hartford, but they could always send Tim Kennedy instead. I dont see any value for White, but Kennedy could get some use in Hartford if he isn't going to do anything but sit here. What is less clear is what impact the return of Chris Drury will have on the lineup that we have seen for the first two games both in terms of who will be scratched instead of dressed and deeper what the line combinations will look like. The minor injury to Erik Christensen could once again buy the Rangers a little extra time in making those tough decisions, but let us examine what this roster could look like with a healthy Drury and Christensen.
For my thoughts on those potential roster moves and line combinations join me after the jump.
Update: Since writing this last night we have seen Chris Drury practice with the top line, so that could potentially make all I say below irrelevant if he plays well there, but I will post it as it was anyway and re-evaluate if necessary once play happens again and all the forwards are healthy. Also it was Tim Kennedy who was sent to Hartford as I speculated was possible even though I still firmly believe there is no purpose for Todd White here.
I hope the Rangers feel as I do that the obvious scratch in this situation is Derek Boogaard, especially against teams where we do not need an enforcer/goon type player. In two games this year he has played a combined 7:37 including a microscopic 1:34 in the game yesterday versus the Islanders. Other candidates for the scratch would include Brandon Prust, Brian Boyle and perhaps Erik Christensen.
The key decision in all of this might just rest on the shoulders of Rangers 20 year old rookie center Derek Stepan. If the coaching staff decides that Stepan is ready to slot into the lineup between Alexander Frolov and Marian Gaborik, the decisions become somewhat easier in my opinion. The reason I say that is because Chris Drury at this stage cannot take that number 1 center slot, Artem Anisimov has shown tremendous production and play out of the number 2 line and I don’t see coach Tortorella putting his captain who he has talked about increasing his offensive role on the 4th line. Even in a scenario where the Rangers do decide that Stepan can play on the top line with Frolov and Gaborik that would still leave serious questions as to who plays and in what combination for the bottom six forwards.
Sean Avery and Ruslan Fedetenko have played very well together and shown good chemistry with one another, so there is the very real option of keeping them together and just slotting Drury or Christensen in that center spot. As I said above, I do not see Drury going to the fourth line, at least not for any extended period of time. It is possible he is put there initially to get back into the swing of things and not disrupt the flow of the offensive side, but I would not count on it as a permanent move. One issue if you make the 3rd line one of Avery-Drury-Fedetenko is that Erik Christensen will in all likelihood disappear playing with less skilled 4th line guys. This could mean that Christensen gets scratched from the lineup altogether.
It would look something like this:
If Rangers management does not feel that Derek Stepan is ready for the number 1 center responsibilities then Christensen is likely safe in the lineup and the questions on the bottom six are much different. With my stated claims on Drury still being there I could see a scenario, especially coming back from the injured hand where Drury moves, at least temporarily, to the right wing on the 3rd line with Stepan and say Avery. This would push Fedetenko down to play with hopefully Boyle and Prust.
That scenario might play out like this:
Complicating all of these matters is the fact that through two games of the regular season the magic that appeared to be there for Frolov and Gaborik together has not materialized in the same way. If that lack of production continues you can bet that the king of the line shuffle will start changing things other than just the center in-between them. In this scenario a sort of chaos could erupt and has led me to thinking about some interesting combinations I would like to see based on the play that I have seen so far this year. The Dubinsky-Anisimov-Callahan line has been the Rangers best line in their first two games and I would hesitate to break it up, other than the fact that Dubinsky and Anisimov have shown excellent chemistry and Dubinsky had very good chemistry with Gaborik last season.
I would like to potentially see something like this:
The reason I like these combination is because in each scenario there is a mixture of skill and grit where we have guys who can protect the guys around them along with spreading out the scoring potential. Dubinsky and Anisimov are both able to step in, especially Dubinsky to protect Gaborik and all three are not afraid to work the corners, cycle the puck and head to the front of the net while being aware defensively. With the 2nd line you have some protection or at least feistiness in having Cally around Stepan as Frolov and Gaborik are not really equipped to protect him from taking cheapshots like say Avery did/does. The 3rd line has battle, checking line ability and some potential punch to score.
The problems the Rangers will have making these decisions are a good thing because it shows we have some depth and competition for line assignments and minutes. For all those who have for years worried about the Rangers not having a number 1 center, just realize what you have seen from 2 centers 22 and under in the first couple of games. Stepan got all the headlines after game 1 with his hat trick and he deserved them, but in my opinion the best center on this team and player through two games has been Anisimov.