Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Line Juggling: Lets Play Guess Who

One topic that has been a major point of discussion among New York Ranger fans is who John Tortorella will put together on the forward lines. With so many new players and a certain unfamiliarity in terms of skill and talent, it will be interesting to see how things play out. Most fans I have talked to think the lines will shake out to something like this:


Sure these lines seem sensible as they resemble the depth chart of the franchise right now. However, one flaw here is that things never end up the way the depth chart is on paper. Ranger fans saw the combination of Scott Gomez and Jaromir Jagr fail after hopes of always having them together on the top line. Brandon Dubinsky went on to be Jagr's center that year and the rest is history.
There are so many different combinations that could be put together because of the depth the Rangers have right now. I am going to attempt to put something together. These lines are not necessarily what will be the lines on opening night but what will shake out as the season goes on:


I am guessing these are not the lines you were expecting. At this point it is anybody's guess as to how John Tortorella will use his forwards but here is an explanation why I think this.

Most Ranger fans believe Dubinsky will be the top center for the team next season. While that may be true on the depth chart, someone with the playmaking ability of Artem Anisimov has to be considered on the top line. It is true that "Artie" will be a rookie in the NHL this coming season but that shouldn't make the coaching staff afraid to put him in a situation to succeed. Pairing Anisimov with someone like Marian Gaborik will allow the young Russian to find space on the ice to make plays.
Many people are under the impression that a winger needs to have a center who can set him up to score. However someone of Gaborik's talent, which there are few, can start, create, and finish plays all by himself. He does not need someone setting him up.
The rationale for Anisimov is that he can thrive in this situation. With a goal scorer in Higgins to his left, Anisimov will be able to create plays with him or have the space to make his own plays. If all else fails, just give the puck to Gaborik and get to open ice.
Having Higgins on the line will give the group a player who will grind it out along the boards and is not afraid to go to the front of the net, giving a playmaking option to Anisimov and Gaborik. Higgins will be determined to show that last season was just a fluke and that he is a consistent 20 goal scorer in the NHL.

Brandon Dubinsky and Ryan Callahan played together in the playoffs and showed some chemistry forming. The two play a similar style as they are not afraid to grind out along the boards and fight for the puck. Dubinsky can dish the puck while Callahan can take it and put it on net. It only makes sense that the two players who succeeded the most under John Tortorella's system be put together. They will create space for themselves and their fellow linemate, Enver Lisin.
Coming over from Phoenix, Lisin's two biggest assets are speed and skill. He has a nose for the net and can be a big difference maker on the ice. One of the fastest skaters in the NHL, Lisin will be able to find areas for a playmaking center like Dubinsky to get him the puck.
The young Russian needs to work on his defensive play but putting him with two defensively responsible players in Callahan and Dubinsky may help him further his learning in the defensive zone. A combination of speed, physicality, and skill is what John Tortorella wants and that is what he has with this line.

While the third line is usually reserved for a more defensive style, Torts will be expecting all of his lines to be playing defense. Chris Drury and Ales Kotalik played together in Buffalo years ago and they will be reunited after having good chemistry for the Sabres. Kotalik's main asset is his shot. Whether he is using a wrist or slap shot, Kotalik is a danger to score off the wing all the time. He would be an even better player if he used his size to his advantage more often.
However, Drury and Kotalik both like to shoot the puck and will need someone who can be a playmaker. Vaclav Prospal has played at the center and wing positions in his career. Having him on this line will allow for flexibility in having him either on the wing or moving Drury to the wing and having Prospal in the center. He is a playmaker who will be able to feed the forwards on his for shots. If he can't, then he has the scoring ability to finish off the play.
Prospal and Drury together will be a good shutdown unit for the Rangers as Prospal knows John Tortorella's system while Drury has been known for his good two way play. This is a solid third line that can provide scoring depth and solid defensive play.

I know many Ranger fans will not be a fan of having Sean Avery on the fourth line, but the fact is that he is outskilled by those in front of him. Ranger fans want scoring on all four lines and Avery will be able to provide that on a lower line playing against the lower lines of other teams. Throw in the fact Avery is the most annoying thing on skates and you have yourself a solid fourth liner.
New York acquired center Brian Boyle in a trade with the Los Angeles Kings at the draft this year and are hoping he can revive his career. The big center, who stands at 6'7 250 pounds, showed his offensive abilities in the NHL by scoring four goals in his first 7 games, including against the New York Rangers. If he can learn to use his body more, Boyle could become a surprise reclamation project for the organization and provide a big body down the middle.
The Rangers replaced Colton Orr with Donald Brashear this offseason in what many Ranger fans thought was a bit of an odd move. However, Brashear is a much better overall player than Colton Orr is. The veteran can mildly skate and is a very intimidating figure as one of the premier enforcers in the NHL. When he is not needed, the Rangers can sub in a player like Aaron Voros.
Like I mentioned before, all of this is a guessing game. Who goes where and with who is a mystery that will be solved in the coming month at training camp and during the preseason. Even more is that the offseason is not done yet and with many players still available and trade rumors floating around, it is almost moot at this point to make up lines, especially on defense.
But the forward lines I put above seem to me a reasonable place that the Rangers will end up. One thing that Ranger fans need to remember about the line combinations that will come about is that people need to keep an open mind. I highly doubt Donald Brashear and Marian Gaborik will be on the same line...but then again with such a new team and an open roster, don't be surprised if it is tried.

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