Over the summer there was much speculation concerning the subject of who would be the left wing to pair with Brad Richards and Marian Gaborik on the top line for the New York Rangers. My position throughout was that Wojtek Wolski would get the first chance to prove he could utilize his talent playing with those two elite players. Reports from camp have said there is chemistry from the trio, but Wolski has been battling a groin issue for the last week and is no lock to play this Friday in the season opener. The hope is Wolski will practice tomorrow and play on Friday, but the Rangers also have to prepare in case that doesn’t happen.
While Wolski has been on the shelf, coach John Tortorella has been shuffling Brian Boyle, Ruslan Fedotenko and Brandon Dubinsky in and out with his Richards and Gaborik looking for who could fill the spot. If Wolski is unavailable on Friday which Rangers’ forward should get the spot on the top line?
Based on their play in the preseason, Brian Boyle should be the guy to get the first look in that role. Dubinsky could certainly fill the role and do very well there, but removing him from Anisimov and Callahan changes the dynamic of a very effective line, which is certainly not ideal. Fedotenko gives you a known player who has a past with Richards and would allow little disruption throughout the rest of the lineup, but Boyle has just outperformed him during the exhibition season.
Stepan was a player rumored to get a shot there during the summer, but the grouping has not been given a big chance together and he has shown more chemistry with Zuccarello. Zuccarello has not really been considered because he was significantly more effective as a right wing vs playing the left side last season. However, with the level of improvement that Zuke has shown this fall it would not be a bad idea to consider him if Boyle did not work out and Wolski was still unable to go.
As for why Boyle should be the guy to get the shot. He has been able to keep up Richards and Gaborik skating wise and his size and strength have shown well playing off their skill. Boyle is the kind of player that can do the dirty work along the boards, especially on the forecheck, and also create more space for his line mates. The most noticeable thing about Boyle this preseason has been his improvement in net presence and understanding how to use his size in front of it. Watching Boyle work down low, especially against HC Slovan, showed that he has taken yet another step in developing his game in understanding the angles necessary to be open for passes and a presence to disrupt the goaltender.
After a career year last season and a big new contract some might have expected to see Boyle rest on his performance, but everything from the exhibition season has him looking even hungrier to prove it was no fluke. Putting him with the Rangers most talented offensive players would reward that effort while giving him the prime opportunity he has earned to put his ever increasing abilities on display.