Today, we’re going to take a break from CBA talk and look down the road to training camp and beyond. Call me hopeful, but this suit thinks the NHL will play a partial season. With this in mind, perhaps no other aspect of a training camp, preseason, or regular season roster is more critiqued & analyzed by fans than line combinations.
Creating line combos is everyone’s chance to play armchair coach. It doesn’t matter what team you follow or which coach stands behind your bench. Every fan wants to dream up lines and see them produce. For the Rangers, this will be the first time John Tortorella will have a top 6 that won’t be a revolving door.
In his first few seasons as coach, Torts lacked a top flight center. As a result, Torts was left to choose from average Joes for the first line such as Erik Christensen, Ollie Jokinen and Brandon Dubinsky, to name a few. Once Brad Richards came aboard and Derek Stepan emerged, the Rangers center position stabilized. Of course, then they lacked a premiere scorer on the left side of the ice. From 2009-2011, guys best suited for bottom 6 minutes like Avery, Fedotenko, Chris Higgins and Wojtek Wolski all had stints in a top 6 role.
With a 2013 season hopefully around the corner, Torts could finally have balanced scoring throughout the lineup. Here’s an early look at what opening night line combinations could look like…
Scoring line #1: Rick Nash – Brad Richards – Ryan Callahan
No matter where you put him, Rick Nash is a 30+ goal scorer any day of the week and twice on Sunday. The Rangers haven’t had a scorer this dynamic since Jagr. Nash finds twine from everywhere on the ice. He can score in the crease, off one-times, off the half boards, on the rush, etc. His line mates may not be etched in stone, but chances are his role as first line left wing is.
Brad Richards proved those who questioned his contract he’s still a premiere player in this league. He won the majority of his faceoffs and he was clutch at all the right times. If he plays with Nash, I’d expect an uptick in his production, even at this stage of his career. Plus, it will help he no longer has to pass to Dubinsky where scoring chances went to die last season.
I put up the poll to your right asking, “Should the Rangers form a 1st line featuring Nash-Richards-Gaborik?” Hundreds of you have taken it and 56% of you think they should be split up to spread the defense. I 100% agree. These guys should be separated to create mismatches. Plus, I think Richards and Nash together can make a lot of pretty plays when pressuring the offensive zone. But like every other superstar combo, they will need someone drawing attention in front of the net. Who better than Cally to have in that role?
Scoring line #2: Chris Kreider – Derek Stepan – Marian Gaborik
Kreider hasn’t lit the world on fire in the AHL this season (10 points in 21 games), but AHL stats are meaningless when it comes to potential production at the Show. If Kreider makes improvements in his defensive zone coverage, he will ultimately have the puck more in the offensive zone and more chances to bury that heavy shot of his. So long as he’s learning and improving on the defensive side of the puck, he’ll be here when the ice is eventually laid at the Garden.
I liked the way Derek Stepan and Marian Gaborik clicked when they played together in the early parts of last season. For a while, they were on the only consistent combo producing. I’d like to see these two get another crack at playing together. They seemed to sense where each other were positionally and that means the world when trying to generate offense from the rush.
I’m sure many of you think Gabby should be on the first line and I wouldn’t argue with you. But to my earlier point against super lines, Torts needs to create mismatches. He needs to get certain guys away from the top defensive pairings. If there’s anyone I want finding open ice on this team and capitalizing on defensive miscues, it is Marian Gaborik.
Stayed tuned for the bottom six…