Could the Rangers’ split up their elite 2nd-line to maximize their biggest free-agent signing?

Reilly Smith, Rangers
Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

While the New York Rangers may not have had as exciting an offseason as fans would have hoped for, it’s impossible to deny that their roster has improved. The Blueshirts’ biggest acquisition was Reilly Smith, who will bolster the middle six offensive corps.

Since Smith was traded to New York, there has been speculation on where the winger might fit on the roster. He isn’t skilled enough to be dominant on the first line but he is better than a bottom-six player. Based on his career in the past, one option might be to break up the Rangers’ best offensive unit to reunite Smith with an old partner of his.

Smith and Trocheck have been dominant together in the past

From 2015-2017, Smith was linemates with current Ranger Vincent Trocheck. During their time with the Florida Panthers, the two played over 1400 minutes at 5v5. Their expected goals for percentage and corsi (shot attempt differential while at even strength) were at 54%, a statistic where any number above 50% is considered elite.

Reilly Smith, Rangers
Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Seeing that the Rangers struggled heavily at even strength last season, reuniting Smith and Trocheck could be one way to increase production. Adding the elite talent of superstar Artemi Panarin would presumably boost their stats even further. The Rangers’ second line was easily their best last year, but increasing 5v5 production might be enough reason for Peter Laviolette to change things up.

Mar 16, 2024; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA;  New York Rangers left wing Artemi Panarin (10) talks to center Vincent Trocheck (16) against the Pittsburgh Penguins during the second period at PPG Paints Arena. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports
Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Should the Rangers swap Lafreniere off the second line for Smith?

If Smith and Trocheck were to reunite on the Blueshirts’ second line, Alexis Lafreniere would become the odd man out. Laviolette would never allow a budding star in Lafreniere to be demoted to the third line, which would result in the former first-overall pick being promoted to the top unit.

May 11, 2024; Raleigh, North Carolina, USA; New York Rangers left wing Alexis Lafrenière (13) celebrates after scoring a goal against the Carolina Hurricanes during the third period in game four of the second round of the 2024 Stanley Cup Playoffs at PNC Arena. Mandatory Credit: James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports
Credit: James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports

The Rangers have been searching for a winger to play alongside Chris Kreider and Mika Zibanejad. Free agency failed to solve that issue, but that may no longer be a problem if Lafreniere slides up to the first line. It’s always been an option, but many would have preferred that the second line remains intact. But if Smith is able to rekindle his past success with Trocheck, splitting up that unit and allowing Lafreniere to test his skills with the first line could be a way to make it worth it.

Mentioned in this article:

More about: