Editor’s note: Jon Levy is a Rangers fan who also writes a U.S. soccer blog, “The Yanks are Coming.” He also tweets about soccer and the Rangers, among other things, at @TYAC_Jon.
With Brad Richards signing on and expected to play on a line with Marian Gaborik, recent fan and media discussion has been devoted to who will play the other wing spot. That’s all well and good, but we’ve got to wait to see if Gabs and Richards can play together as expected before taking measurements for the final piece of that puzzle.
What I find more interesting, is the third spot on the Callahan/Dubinsky line. Cally and Dubi have an uncommonly good chemistry when they’re on the ice together; it’s better than Ovechkin/Backstrom or Crosby/Dupuis (though I won’t argue that either Ranger individually is on Ovie or Sid’s level). Don’t believe me? Check out Callahan’s no-look backhanded pass to set up Dubinsky’s game tying goal against the Bruins just prior to Ryan taking that fateful Chara slapper. That play’s a nice microcosm of how hard these two players work, and how well they work together. Thankfully they’ll be doing just that for the Blueshirts for the foreseeable future, and hopefully for USA Hockey as well.
My question is, “What should Torts do with the third spot on the Rangers best line?” I liked Anisimov there this past season, and it seems like Fedotenko is a responsible and useful option at that spot given his performances down the stretch. I believe we’ve also seen Prust, Wolfski (Carp’s boy), and even Gaborik and Boyle play with the NYR’s Dynamic Duo.
Should the Rangers just keep cycling guys into that spot (which can be a center or wing given Brandon Dubinsky’s versatility) based on who’s playing well for a stretch of games, or will they look to stabilize what could be one of the consistently best all-around lines in hockey for years to come? In my time watching the Blueshirts (I’m 28), the team has never found a consistent long-lasting partner for either of their Cally/Dubi level partnerships:
Messier, Graves… Gartner/Larmer/Kovalev/Verbeek/etc.
Jagr, Nylander… Straka/Prucha/Marcel Hossa/Rucinsky/etc.
This is no indictment of the Blueshirts, because dynamic three-man partnerships are hard to find in the first place, and not sustainable, especially in the relatively new salary capped landscape. But that doesn’t mean searching for the best fit shouldn’t be a priority. So what type of player should Torts look to put in that spot?
Part of the draw of the Callahan and Dubinsky partnership is that both guys play a physical style, have a nose for the goal, and track back on defense responsibly. They’re the most complete forwards the Rangers have, unless you ask Tortorella, who I’m sure would point to Fedotenko and tell the “kids” not to get cocky. So one option has been to add a similarly complete player to the mix, with a similar skill set. Artie Anisimov isn’t naturally as physical as either American, but he’s got a big body, and he made great strides last year in using it to his advantage.
Another option is to go with a grind-over-goals selection. I’m looking at Brandon Prust and Ruslan Fedotenko. There’s a school of thought that a guy in this mold would essentially put a restrictor plate on the offensive potential of the line. Then again, there’s also a school of thought that a guy like this will win more pucks in dirty areas and provide our heroes with more offensive opportunities. This guy’s also going to camp in front of the net and take himself a good beating game in and game out. We all know Prust would love this job. I’ve got the feeling Mike Rupp’s looking for the sign-up form too.
Going in the opposite direction, how about a pure shooter? We can’t compare Cally/Dubi to Jagr/Nylander because they played so differently, but we can sure look at Messier/Graves. The latter pairing benefitted from playing with Pat Verbeek in the late 90’s, and all he wanted to do was wait for the puck to find him and to shoot the damn thing. Maybe Wojtek Wolski and his big cap number have a spot on this team after all? And you don’t even have to have an exceptionally great shot to play this role if you’re opportunistic enough … look at Mike Knuble’s career. Garbage goals count.
Or how about a pure playmaker? An Adam Oates or Ray Whitney type. I’m not sure the Rangers have that guy on the roster, but you don’t know if Mats Zuccarello or Derek Stepan can be that guy until you try them out.
And finally, the pure goal scorer. The Rangers have one, and he’s Brad Richards’ date to the prom, sorry boys.
Personally, I’m in favor of letting Artie play more with Captain Callahan and Dubinsky in order to build on the chemistry he was starting to be dealt into last year. How bout youse guys? Who ya got?