Okay, bear with me on this one, but what if the Rangers should decide to pair Artemi Panarin with Vladimir Namestnikov and Pavel Buchnevich to form one of the top two lines. Yes, I'm really suggesting that Rangers' take their premier off-season signing and putting him with a guy who had 11 goals and 31 points in 78 games last year.
This is of course the same guy who has never scored more than 48 points - coincidentally the total he put up in 2017-18 when he was traded to the New York Rangers - and has registered a somewhat modest 53 goals and 123 points in his 263 NHL games.
So if you'll bear with me a moment, let's explore this a little.
With Panarin and Buchnevich on a line together, the Rangers have guys who have some scoring touch, but even better passing ability, but tend to play to the outside rather than go retrieve the puck or create a disturbance in front.
Neither player is particularly strong defensively, and as such the team would need to more heavily on a puck possession type game, backstopped by the rear three of defenders and goaltender.
Ryan Strome might be an option as the pivot, and while he's a bit more of a north-south kind of guy with some defensive capability, he's not exactly a physical presence and his ability to force the turnover, or create a presence in front is relatively limited.
Alternatively the team could turn to sophomore center Brett Howden. The young forward showed some great net front presence in year one, and also demonstrated a maturity on the defensive end that was beyond his year.s. He still is learning that side of the puck, and the type of match-up he'd get on a 1a/1b line would be more testing than last year's 4th line role, so he may not be ready.
There's also Filip Chytil as an option. The Czech is coming into his second full season, and third overall, and has already demonstrated a playmaking ability that catches the eye. Chytil can score goals, and shows potential to become a top six forward in some form of fashion, with his combination of skill, size and skating. The real question is whether he's ready to make the step now, or whether it'd be prudent to continue to use him in a lesser role and ride his form as it grows.
Which brings us back to Namestnikov. The things I most like about Namestnikov are his ability to play the game at his own pace. He's not easily fustered, and from the first day he joined the Rangers, he's shown the ability to play at both ends of the ice. After an early misstep with the new coaching staff, he embraced the role he was given, operating more as a classical defensive minded 3rd liner than a guy who might be able to slot in on the second.
In many ways in 2017-18, Namestnikov became the utility forward for David Quinn, slotting in where needed, whether that be wing or center. This very utility provides a potential dimension to a pairing wiht Panarin and Buchnevich that makes the line as a whole stronger. Namestnikov has the size and strength to go retrieve the puck, the skating and poise to get back on defense, and also showed he can stand in front of the net to create space and draw defenders.
He has also managed to score 22 goals in a season - that same year he was acquired by New York - which couldl easily be under threat if he was to draw this assignment.
Whether he'll have chemistry with Panarin, or for that matter Buchnevich, is yet to be determined, but it would be something worth looking at. That $4M he's currently earning could very well look like a good investment by the end of the year if the stars align.