The New York Rangers are two points away from clinching another playoff berth, and their top line is a big reason why the team has been successful this year. The line of Mats Zuccarello, Derick Brassard and Benoit Pouliot has been money for the Blueshirts as a unit, and all three will be seeking money this offseason as free agents.
The line was reunited by Alain Vigneault recently, and the line has picked up where it left off. The line is very interesting in construction, and it thrives because all three players are similar. Each is a misfit in his own way, and that trait allows each to make the other better.
Pouliot has bounced around numerous NHL franchises, Brassard fell out of favor with the Columbus Blue Jackets and Zuccarello joined the Rangers even though many questioned his size. The Rangers will have to make some decisions this summer when it comes to finances, but keeping the Zuccarello, Brassard and Pouliot line should be a top priority for management.
Before going down with an injury, Zuccarello was the Rangers best player, and one of their most consistent forwards. He is having a career year, and he has proved that he has what it takes to be an NHL player. The Hobbit's creativity and patience with the puck is a huge asset, and he is a great playmaker on this line.
Joining Zuccarello in the career-year department is Mr. Derick Brassard. Brassard has 18 goals thus far, and that is the most he has ever scored in an NHL season. He also has 43 points, and with four games left, he only needs a point each game to tie his career high of 47 points.
One of the biggest criticisms that Brassard has faced throughout his career has been his hesitancy when it comes to shooting the puck, but this year he has fired the puck with confidence. This has allowed Brassard to be a more dynamic player, and it has even helped his playmaking ability.
In the past, defenders knew that Brassard would be passing the puck 75 percent of the time, but this year, they have no idea what he is going to do. Brassard has used this to his advantage, and more often that not, Pouliot has been a direct beneficiary.
One of the biggest surprise stories this year involves the play of Pouliot, and he has looked at home with the Rangers. Pouliot was drafted fourth overall by the Minnesota Wild back in 2005, but he has never been a good fit. This season, Pouliot has set a career high in points with 33, and he has scored 13 goals. Seven of Pouliot's goals have come on the power play, an area he only joined midway through the season.
At 6'3" and 197 pounds, Pouliot has solid size, but he is also an amazing skater who is solid defensively. This has allowed Vigneault to use Pouliot in penalty-killing situations, and it has added an offensive element to the Blueshirts' special teams unit.
This has been a memorable year for Pouliot, and he seems to get better each and every game. He is a player who was signed in the summer to be an extra top-nine forward, but he has turned out to be a very important player for the Rangers.
Individually and united, Zuccarello, Brassard and Pouliot have been key players for the Rangers. The Blueshirts will have some leeway when it comes to negotiating with Zuccarello and Brassard because they are restricted free agents, but Pouliot will be an unrestricted free agent who can hit the open market.
Given the success that has been cultivated in such a short amount of time, it is worth the risk of bringing back this entire line for next season. The Blueshirts are in a win-now mode, and these three forwards are players who can help accomplish that goal.
Finding chemistry with players is something that usually takes a lot of time, so the Rangers should keep a good thing going for the foreseeable future. The Rangers have their other top forwards—sans Chris Kreider—locked up for next season, so re-upping these forwards should be a no-brainer as long as the money is right.
Stats via NHL.com.