We’ve heard this a million times: The Rangers can’t score. The Rangers have no scoring depth. The Rangers rely on one or two guys to provide all of the offense.
These statements aren’t exactly inaccurate. The Rangers have, for a long time, been thin on forwards. Last season they were thin with depth forwards. Two years ago they were thin on secondary and tertiary scoring. Three seasons ago they lacked assistance for their one main weapon, but had secondary scoring to back it up. Each year, the Rangers have added pieces to address a need, but opened holes in other areas.
They signed Brad Richards to address the need to assist Marian Gaborik after the 2010-2011 season, but remained thin on assistance past that top line. They traded their vaunted depth after the 2011-2012 season to acquire Rick Nash, but the trade left them woefully thin on the bottom six. They addressed that by trading Gaborik and acquiring pieces that can –potentially– play a second line role. Then, this past offseason they acquired the last pieces for tertiary scoring. When you add in the development of home-grown players, you have a well-rounded forward group, when healthy.
Since predicting line combinations is virtually impossible in August, I believe it to be more useful to evaluate the depth at each forward position. One of the things each Stanley Cup winning team has had in common over the many, many years is depth down the middle. This is something that the Rangers finally have: A group of centers that –on paper– represent one of the stronger foursomes down the middle.
No matter how you rank them, the trio of Derek Stepan, Brad Richards, and Derick Brassard gives the Rangers potent scoring ability and defense from the top three lines. They will likely be switched around a lot, but anyone from this trio is capable of playing a top line role or a third line role. Brian Boyle and Dominic Moore round out the depth, as either can play a fourth line shutdown role (something more likely suited for Boyle) or substitute in on the third line (Moore).
On the right side, you have Nash, Ryan Callahan, Mats Zuccarello, and Derek Dorsett. That is probably the order you will see them when the puck drops, and all four are in roles that suit them well. When you throw in Arron Asham, someone who is capable of filling in on the fourth line in a pinch, you have a very deep right side.
The left side is where there are the most question marks, but it doesn’t mean the Rangers are necessarily weak there. They lack a bonafide top line LW, but they have three guys who can rotate to provide a spark. Carl Hagelin has played top line minutes before, as has Chris Kreider. Then there’s Benoit Pouliot, who is one of the best even strength P/60 guys in the league. The question marks surround who plays on the top line with Nash and (likely) Stepan, but all three are capable second/third line LWs, which solves the depth issue. Taylor Pyatt rounds out the LW position.
There are always questions heading into the preseason, but this group of forwards has most of the questions answered already. This is the most skilled and deepest we have seen the Rangers in quite some time. Those three statements at the top may be fresh in our minds, but on paper, this team looks to have finally addressed them.