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The potential for the Rangers to be without Stepan, Callahan and Hagelin for the start of the 2013-14 season is a serious issue. To put it into context, the three could, potentially, have been the Rangers first or second line. But we know Callahan and Hagelin will likely miss the opener—and possibly up to 10 games each—and there appears to be no end to the Stepan holdout situation.
Young players like Oscar Lindberg and J.T. Miller are now presented with golden opportunities to prove they belong with the big club. With Stepan out, the Rangers’ top-four centermen are as follows: Derick Brassard, Brad Richards, Dominic Moore and Brian Boyle. That group isn’t particularly strong, so you’d assume players like Lindberg and Miller—who can play both in the middle and on the wing—will get a real shot to slide into the third-line center spot to start the season with Boyle probably moves back out to the wing.
Amidst all the uncertainty, the Rangers do have a host of players who can steady the ship. Of course superstar Rick Nash will be ready to go for the start of the season, and look for him to play on the right side, considering the team’s depth on the left side and its deficiencies on the right.
Mats Zuccarello, too, can play on both sides, but look for him to work on the right side on one of the top-two lines while Callahan is out. Once the captain is back, Zucc may move back to the left side. Chris Kreider, in my estimate, should be handed top-six minutes to start the season. He’ll hold down the left side with incoming free agent Benoit Pouliot.
Richards will more than likely get a real good opportunity on the first line with Nash if Stepan is absent as he looks to rebound from him miserable 2013 campaign. Brassard will again assume his second-line role.
The bottom-six is a bit trickier. If Callahan and Hagelin were to be available, players like Arron Asham and Darroll Powe would probably not get looks, seeing as they were waived earlier in the summer, but they both could now be included in the preliminary roster.
I do think that if Stepan is a holdout when the season begins, Lindberg is the player who grabs that third-line center spot. And, as was the case with Asham and Powe, I believe Miller can also squeeze his way on the preliminary roster, and I’d look for him to play on the third line with Lindberg.
I doubt another rookie forward would make their way on the team, so look for a veteran to complete the third line. It could be Boyle, who would bring a lot of size to the trio, but it could also be Taylor Pyatt or Derek Dorsett, if Vigneault is looking for more of a bite on the checking line.
The fourth-line pivot is, without question, Moore, who returns to the Rangers after a seven-year absence. His versatile nature will give the Rangers’ a lot of options in the bottom-six. His linemates will be determined after Vigneault decides who he wants on the third line. In my eyes, Boyle would be best there with Lindberg and Miller, so by my estimate Pyatt and Dorsett will skate with Moore.
Kreider – Richards – Nash
Pouliot – Brassard – Zuccarello
Miller – Lindberg – Boyle
Pyatt – Moore – Dorsett
Spares: Asham, Powe
IR: Callahan, Hagelin