Sunday, June 12, 2011

Rangers Should Look At Zuccarello, Stepan, Thomas As Potential Third Line 2011-12

On Friday I looked at the potential fallout and/or domino effect on the other centers in the Rangers lineup if the New York Rangers go out and catch Brad Richards as the big fish the unrestricted free agent market.  If that happens there is also an impact on what the team’s needs are along the wing.  Assuming that coach John Tortorella wants to keep all the centers in those positions and that Anisimov is left with Brandon Dubinsky and Ryan Callahan, then Derek Stepan is likely the third line center next year.  The worry in playing Stepan in that kind of role is about minutes, but also the quality of players he is playing with on his wings for his overall development.

One idea that could work would be to have a skilled third line that is young and developing together.  Seeing as how the line would not play against the top four defenders on the opposition you could use a young skilled, even small line and get away with it.  Stepan and Mats Zuccarello showed very good chemistry at times last season and both possess very good playmaking instincts.  To go with that pair one would want a finisher and the best finisher the Rangers have in the pipeline is Christian Thomas.  Most are aware of the tremendous season that Thomas had in the OHL for the Oshawa Generals when he recorded 54 goals and 45 assists in 66 games.  He followed that regular season up with an equally impressive 10 goals and nine assists in only 9 games.

It is a leap from the OHL and I am not about to say it will be a pain free transition that sees Thomas score 30 goals as a rookie, but his finishing skill paired with Stepan and Zuccarello would give the Rangers a young dynamic scoring line out of their third unit.  The three would likely have some issues in the defensive zone given their combined lack of size, but they can be shielded from that in large measure by being put out for mostly offensive zone draws.

Expect Thomas, especially with the Rangers lack of consistent scoring, to be given every shot to make the club out of training camp this fall, and even the 9 games he is allowed during the year to prove he belongs.  This combination might be his best shot at playing with skill and not being exposed for his youth or size at the NHL level as a rookie.