Brian Boyle will be a key cog of the bottom six.
Last week we took an early look at the Rangers potential top 6 line combinations. I think the majority of us agree some iteration of Ryan Callahan, Marian Gaborik, Brad Richards, Rick Nash, Chris Kreider and Derek Stepan will comprise our top 2 scoring lines. With that said, the Rangers bottom six is a bit less certain.
The assumption is Carl Hagelin, Brian Boyle, Taylor Pyatt, Mike Rupp, Jeff Halpern and Arron Asham will fill those roles. However, three of those six have never played for John Tortorella before and we all know how Torts utilizes his 4th line…
Ultimately, it comes down to skating, work effort and a team first attitude. If any of these guys prove to be a liability in any of those facets of the game, they will be replaced by someone from Hartford.
On to the line combos…
Line #3: Carl Hagelin – Brian Boyle – Taylor Pyatt
Brian Boyle was responsible for lining up against the opposition’s top scorers and shutting them down. This season will be no different. Last year people complained about his drop in scoring (11-15-26 in 2012, 21-14-35 in 2011) and while a little more offense would have gone a long way, he was certainly successful at executing his assigned role. If Boyle ends up playing with Hagelin full-time, he may be able to get back to a respectable point total.
Carl Hagelin obviously has an explosive first step, is terrific on the forecheck, and also possesses some playmaking ability. His zero goals and three assists on the postseason were disappointing, especially considering his spot on the top line. I was more disappointed with his puck possession numbers, which were so damn good during the regular season, but dropped off precipitously during the playoffs. If he ever learns to shoot and score mid-stride – watch the eff out. He could give someone on our top 6 a run for their money.
Taylor Pyatt, you may remember, was the Canucks player who lost his fiancée in a car accident several years ago. How one bounces back from a tragedy like that is beyond my level of comprehension. It’s good to see he’s still playing hockey and I’m glad he’s continuing his career as a Ranger. No one backs up their own better than Rangers fans.
Like Hagelin, Pyatt is a left winger, so those two may swap. Defensively, at least from a metric point of view, he’s a slight downgrade over Ruslan Fedotenko. However, scouts say he’s a better skater and has some pop offensively to go with that 6’3 frame of his. Pyatt spent the last three seasons with the Coyotes, who employ more of a trap and transition style offense, so it will be interesting to see how he makes the transition from a 1-2-2 neutral zone hybrid trap team to Torts’ more aggressive 2-1-2 forecheck. Ultimately, Pyatt should give Torts a good match up weapon in his arsenal.
Line #4: Mike Rupp – Jeff Halpern – Arron Asham
The fourth line is where things get interesting. Part of the problem the Rangers ran into in the playoffs was their 4th line was often out-matched by quicker skaters. I’m not sure Rupp – Halpern – Asham is really the answer to that problem.
Rupp is a guy I defended quite frequently last season. I think he’s a better player than most give him credit for and obviously Torts leans on him to reinforce his message in the locker room. With that said, how will the prolonged lockout affect his play? Will a vacation from the grind be beneficial, or will he lose a step? It’s hard to know at this stage of his career.
Arron Asham was clearly brought on board to replace Prust’s role as team protector. However, Prust obviously brought more to the table than haymakers, so I’m not sure I really see him replacing Brandon on a macro level. Perhaps Torts will utilize him differently, but at age 34, I’m not sure what other roles would be a good fit. He hasn’t played on a penalty kill since 2006.
Jeff Halpern is the only guy among this trio I really see sticking in the lineup consistently. He’s a faceoff specialist who can also block shots, kill penalties, etc. He averaged just over 12:30 of ice-time over the last two seasons, so figure he’ll probably be used comparably to John Mitchell.
Of course, the Rangers have a wealth of prospects and role players in Hartford, so if any of these guys don’t pan out, Sather can always bring up some fresh legs from CT.