Following last night’s game it was announced that Rangers Captain Chris Drury has been fully cleared by the medical staff, which means full contact practices starting today and that John Tortorella said he will be back in the lineup Wednesday against the Penguins. The obvious question his return leads to is who is gone when he comes back, but I have a few others as well: What position is he going to play and where does he slot in the lineup?
According to Tortorella it will not be one of the kids who is out when Drury returns which is good news for the likes of Stepan and Anisimov, but does not fully answer the question nor does it fully explain the impact it will have on them. The obvious answer for the departure everyone keeps bringing up is Todd White which is all well and good and certainly the likely move since Boogaard is still out with his latest injury. One thing I want to clear up on the White situation is bringing Drury back does not necessarily mean White goes down to Connecticut on Wednesday because the Rangers do have an extra roster spot available right now so it is conceivable they could carry White as a scratch/extra in case of another injury at least initially and possibly until Vinny Prospal is ready to come off LTIR.
So let us assume White is out of the lineup when Wednesday comes and Boogaard is out for at least the week though it sounds like it could be longer than that. What does the lineup look like on Wednesday in terms of lines and combinations? What position does Drury even play coming back from a finger issue? If I had been asked the first of those questions even two days ago I would have bet that Drury would have been slotted back in the lineup as the center for Brandon Dubinsky and Ryan Callahan and he might still be just that, but to me that would be a shame based on the way Artem Anisimov has played the last two nights in getting his game back on track and being more involved offensively. You have a situation where for the most part, at least last night, but I would argue in terms of creating chances each of the top three lines have worked reasonably well together over the past two games.
To move Frolov out after he has played two of his more engaged games of the season would certainly not help that situation; Fedotenko and Stepan have earned their roles up top for now; Prust or Boyle being moved down would classify as criminal. For me the only place to slot Drury to start is on the fourth line with Avery and Christensen as it will allow Drury to get back into the game and spend most of his time on the penalty kill while he works himself back. Playing him with Christensen would allow him to not have to take draws at least initially to protect the finger if necessary and there is always the option of double shifting Gaborik with any combination of Drury and either Avery or Christensen to give Drury some more offensive chances in addition to other even strength shifts and penalty kill time.
I do not know how long Drury would stay on the fourth line and a lot of that would depend on the play of those ahead of him, but ‘C’ or not or maybe even because of the ‘C’ the goal should be to disrupt what is working as little as possible and make EVERYONE earn their spot and their time on the ice. What you also have in the larger sense is basically about two weeks for Frolov, Christensen and maybe Avery as for me they are the three most likely to actually lose a spot when Prospal returns to decide amongst themselves based on their play who stays and who goes. It is always possible that in the intervening time Sather pulls a trade shipping a forward out and eliminates the need for the choice, but until that comes those three have to continue to battle for their spot in the lineup. Competition is a good thing, so is depth and options and in the Rangers case when their injured veterans return they will have plenty of all of the above.