Gotta tell you, I’m starting to be fascinated on this No. 1 left-wing thing.
I mean, it shouldn’t be that hard to find a winger to play with the two most gifted forwards on the team, right? It could be all types of players, couldn’t it? Could be an offensive guy, a defensive guy, a big guy, a fast guy.
But the Rangers, for whatever reason, don’t seem to have that right guy. Or at least, they haven’t identified him.
I do think that Brandon Dubinsky would ultimately fit just fine there, maybe better than fine. He’s their best left winger, he does a lot of things, including retrieve pucks from dirty areas, and has some toughness for protecting Brad Richards and Marian Gaborik, and he certainly has enough skill to put up numbers.
On the other hand, the Dubinsky promotion, the whole robbing Peter to pay Paul thing, is a legit concern, because Dubinsky was so good with Artem Anisimov and Ryan Callahan last year, when that line was really the No. 1 line. And because, without Dubinsky, maybe Anisimov-Callahan don’t work as well, and maybe the Rangers’ depth takes a huge hit.
I don’t think Wojtek Wolski works on the No. 1 line, simply because he’s not even a top-six forward. He’s not. He has size and puck skills and has improved his skating—or so we’ve heard—but unless he’s a lot better this year (anyway, he’s got a wonky groin now), he’s not top-six. He might not be top-12. That goes double for Erik Christensen, and I’m not going to pile on him again.
Brian Boyle got a look there, but I don’t know if that could work, and that’s another robbery of Peter if he moves up. Mike Rupp? I don’t think so. Ruslan Fedotenko? Hmmm, I guess that might be worth a try.
So here, again, is the suggestion I brought up in July and several times during the summer: Derek Stepan. He has the skill and speed to play with those guys. He’s not the best on the team along the boards, but he’s not the worst, either, and he’s willing to go to the wall and battle for pucks. He has the instincts and hockey IQ to do something with the puck when he gets it; gives Richards another target who can score goals; is not bad defensively.
More important than all of that, Stepan needs more minutes than he’s getting, or than he’s going to get if the top three centers in terms of ice time are Richards, Anisimov and Boyle. He needs to play with better players than Rupp and Wolski, Christensen or Mats Zuccarello. He’s a kid with a lot of upside, who needs a chance to develop that upside.
I know that Dubinsky is going to start the next game on Richards’ left. But I think Stepan should get a shot, and soon. Or at least, give him a crack at playing the left side of Anisimov and Callahan for now, and then a chance on the No. 1 line in the near future.