The Rangers lineup is still in flux following after-hours takeovers

Coming full circle, doesn’t it, as head coach Gerard Gallant has mentioned he would like Alexis Lafreniere back on the left wing as the No 13 feels more comfortable there? Or did I just listen to a recording from the beginning of the season and mislabeled it as “24. March” referred to?

No, that was only Thursday. Gallant explained the move after Tuesday’s second period, which saw him move Lafreniere from the right wing of the Chris Kreider-Mika Zibanejad unit to the left wing of the fourth row with Dryden Hunt and Ryan Reaves.

The Blueshirts had just conceded five goals to the Devils in the second half and were trailing 5-2. Gallant brought Andrew Copp up the right wing with Zibanejad and Kreider. Lafreniere got his first substitution of the third period at 10:15 when the score was 6:3.

“To be fair to Laffy, I know he prefers to play on the left wing rather than the right wing. We’re trying out some new, different people, so don’t pick on Laffy, it’s not at all,” Gallant said. “I wanted to get him back on the left wing and make him more comfortable there.

“He’s a 20-year-old boy, he played good hockey, he got some points for us but with the new guys coming in you want to change the makeup a bit. We’ll see where it goes.”

A Kreider-Zibanejad-Lafreniere unit has been intact for nearly 20 games.
A Kreider-Zibanejad-Lafreniere unit has been intact for nearly 20 games.
Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

The Kreider-Zibanejad-Lafreniere unit has been intact for the better part of 20 games since it was formed for Henrik Lundqvist Night on January 28. The line was on the schedule during that stretch with 13 goals for and 10 v 5 vs Best with a near-equivalent 52.79 xGF. Zibanejad led the team by 12 points (4-8) while Lafreniere was second by 10 (5-5). During that 20-game span, Lafreniere and Kreider took the lead at the club with five goals, five against five.

Gallant doesn’t generally predict his lineups or lineups, but in preparation for Friday night’s Garden game against the Penguins on Thursday, Lafreniere ran on the left wing in the third row with Filip Chytil in the middle and Barclay Goodrow on the right . Frank Vatrano played with Kreider and Zibanejad on the right flank, while Copp played with Ryan Strome and Artemi Panarin on the right flank.

There is a new Top 9 for the Blueshirts with 18 games remaining. There will be a lot of trial and error before Gallant can agree on at least a quasi-permanent approach. Having a work plan that includes four healthy scratches per game isn’t ideal, but there should be enough time for the manager and club to work this out.

Alexis Lafreniere has rotated between wing positions throughout the season.
Alexis Lafreniere has rotated between wing positions throughout the season.
Tom Horak-USA TODAY Sports

It’s not like the days before 2005/06, when the deadline came just over three weeks before the end of the season. With just 12 games to play, the Islanders acquired Butch Goring from the Kings in 1980 in the most landmark deadline deal in NHL history. The club’s 8-0-4 record all the way did not quite hint at the story that was to follow.

There was a new top 9 for Rangers and indeed a new third row. While Lafreniere had played 22 times previously with Chytil in the centre, Sammy Blais was right winger in six of those games, while Julien Gauthier featured in the other 16 times.

Lafreniere always publicly downplays the difficulty of moving from his natural left flank to the outside wing. The coach clearly believes that there is more to it than what meets the eye or even sees. Perhaps Rangers believe the off-season would present a more fruitful time for Lafreniere to make the move.

Because, again, to reconsider a scenario that’s been apparent for months, if Lafreniere can’t handle a move to the right flank, then the 20-year-old, first overall pick of the 2020 NHL Entry Draft is destined to be a third pick. Line player behind Kreider and Panarin for the foreseeable future. That doesn’t seem to help anyone.

And wait, there’s more. there are more Coming left winger, that is, with 2022 first-rounder Brennan Othmann and 2021 second-rounder Will Cuylle on the way. Rangers don’t have centers in the pipeline, they have left wingers, whoa boy. Fair and balanced? You decide.

In the summer, general manager Chris Drury has to deal with the big picture. At the moment, however, the coach goes into everyday life. The Rangers lineup is still in flux following after-hours takeovers


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