New York Rangers 2023-24 Season Primer: The Forwards

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Last week I covered the Rangers defense and goaltending - the unquestioned strength of this team in terms of reliability. They've got the tenacity & skill to thrive under Laviolette's aggressive new system while Igor shuts the door like no other netminder can. With puck drop on the Blueshirts season tonight, it's time to dig into their forwards. A versatile mix of vets & youth, talent & grit, pedigree & potential who need to prove themselves, not so much in the regular season, but when the stakes are highest come mid-April. Still, with a full regular season under a new head coach there's 82 contests for this squad to adjust and gel into a machine primed to cash in during their wide open Cup window.

Here's what will likely be the lines for opening night. Obviously these will change throughout the course of the season but I think, for once, most fans are in agreement these are ideal. I'll break them down line by line.



There's no bigger bromance in hockey than the Kreider/Zib tandem. Chemistry is indisputable as is the production - 156 goals between the two over the last couple seasons and there's no reason to think they won't push for 80 again this year. Flanked on the right side is Kaapo Kakko, and I know Rangers fans say this every year but this really does feel like we're finally embarking upon Kakko's breakout.

Now when I say "breakout" I don't mean he's gonna throw himself in the mix with Zib, Panarin & Kreider for top scorer and that may seem like a disappointment from a kid who was drafted second overall just a few years ago. Still, his game has grown each & every year especially without the puck while becoming a demon along the boards with it.

Finishing is the last piece of the puzzle. His floor is a 20G/30A version of Jesper Fast and we all know how important Quickie was to the Blueshirts while he was here. Without much of a threat behind him on the right side though he'll have every opportunity to stick with the dynamic duo and, with any semblance of PP2 success, could push that 60-point barrier. This is a well-balanced, all-situations line that Laviolette can lean on.


It was a rough go for the birthday boy Alexis Lafreniere this camp, but he's fortunate enough to have found himself on the unfamiliar right side of a pure scoring line alongside the Baldman Breadman & Filip Chytil. Laf & Filthy Fil have had some success together as members of the Kid Line - but neither have had a regular opportunity to skate with one of the league's best facilitators in Artemi Panarin.

With his new chrome dome and the weight of last year's playoff embarrassment weighing heavily on his shoulders, I wouldn't be at all surprised to see the return of the dominant Panarin some are saying might be finished. Put me down for triple-digit points and, if the former kids can keep up, there will be 50+ goals to share between them.

I'm much less concerned with Chytil. Fresh off a 22-goal campaign as a 3C he'll mesh well with #10 as his finisher. Whether or not Lafreniere can stick in the top-six is perhaps this season's biggest question. If he can't, there's Wheeler or even rookie Will Cuylle in line to take advantage of a promotion.


Lafreniere's polar opposite this camp was rookie Will Cuylle. Cuylle was the Rangers second-round selection in the same 2020 class that landed Laf & Braden Schneider. At 6'3 210 pounds this kid brings the grit they need in this lineup to form the checking line Laviolette wants to roll out and wreak havoc while proving capable of burying those valuable loose pucks in front of the net.

He makes a perfect complimentary piece for Vincent Trocheck who, albeit 4 inches and 25 pounds lighter, plays the same aggressive style of hockey that's a pain in the ass for the opposition. Newcomer Blake Wheeler is the Blueshirts prized offseason acquisition and will start off the year to the right of Trocheck. Wheeler is a giant - 6'5 225 - who had a hell of a 12-year run with the Winnipeg Jets and will serve as the playmaker for his two hard-nosed, shoot-first linemates.

Yeah he's 37. This won't be 91-point Wheeler. Still there's plenty left in the tank for a guy joining his first new squad since 2010 at an incredibly cheap tag for the sole purpose of winning the Stanley Cup. And if an opportunity eventually opens up in the top-six, something close to a point-per-game pace won't be out of the question.


OK no one cares all that much about a fourth line but in the case of the Rangers this is easily their best one in years. Vesey being the odd man out for the opener tells you all you need to know, as he was an excellent piece last year when deployed in the bottom six where he belongs. He was bested by journeyman Tyler Pitlick who isn't gonna blow anyone away with his game but can skate, play responsibly and stir things up with his physicality. All you can ask for out of your 12th forward.


Playing the pivot is 35 year-old Nick Bonino which is a huge boost compared to 4C's of the past. He might be at the tail end of his career but he's coming off a season where he was skating over 16 minutes a night with the Sharks before a deadline deal sent him to Pittsburgh - the same squad he won back-to-back Cups with in 2016 & 2017. He's still capable of chipping in offensively and will help bring a bit of a dual threat to a line that's usually been asked to just not fuck up. But his prime responsibilities will be on the defensive side of the puck & leading by example with his winning warrior mentality. He battles for every inch, will wear any clapper he can get a body part in front of and could step into a 3C role if an injury requires it. The perfect depth piece.

Rounding out the 4th line is the $3.6M Barclay Goodrow. I'll admit I was expecting a buyout here this summer. A buyout would've actually cleared his salary and netted a couple hundred grand on top of it for this season and next. Gotta think that money could've been better spent elsewhere, especially with the cap expected to take a big jump next year. That's no disrespect to Goodrow as he was tasked to play above his skillset often during the Gallant Era but it's still a pretty penny for a fourth-liner on a squad up against the cap contending for a Cup. He's still here though, and with his role more clearly defined skating alongside a grinder like Bonino fans can only hope he recaptures a touch of that Tampa Bay glory & helps provide New York some semblance of an identity line.

No, there weren't any earth-shattering changes from last year but the subtle ones make this the Rangers most balanced, versatile opening night lineup from top to bottom. Expectations are understandably tepid after last season's disappointment but there's zero reason to believe they'll fall short of the postseason. It may be a bumpy ride to start as they get used to a new voice & system, but they'll undoubtedly punch their ticket. 

What they do when they get there though is all that really matters.