DENVER — In shaking up his lines at the start of the Rangers' two-game road trip, and moving younger players into his team’s top-six forward group, coach Gerard Gallant has ended up with a third line that features the team’s fourth- and fifth-leading scorers in Chris Kreider and Vincent Trocheck.
“I think we just bring more of a north-south style of hockey to our game. The three of us all kind of play that same style,’’ Trocheck said Thursday of his new line, which also includes his childhood friend, Jimmy Vesey. “So I think that'll mesh well.’’
Meshing well is key for Trocheck, 29, who signed a seven-year, $39.375 million free agent contract over the summer with the intention of centering the Rangers’ second line with Artemi Panarin. He played 20 of the first 21 games on the same line as Panarin, and didn’t really seem to have the same kind of chemistry with the Russian that his predecessor, Ryan Strome, had shown in his four seasons in that role.
And so, Gallant decided to switch things up, moving 23-year-old Filip Chytil up to play with Panarin. That meant dropping Trocheck down to the third line.
Trocheck, who entered Friday with nine goals and nine assists, didn’t see the switch as any kind of demotion for him.
“I don't think I change my style of hockey, and the way I play,’’ Trocheck said. “I feel like I play the same way, no matter what. I have one speed, so for me, I think it's all the same.’’
Gallant also refused to designate the Kreider-Trocheck-Vesey trio as a third line.
“No, no,’’ the coach said. “Not with the group we have right now. Not at all. I mean, I don't know which is the first [line], and which is the third.’’
With Vesey, a solid defensive veteran forward and penalty killer, Kreider, who entered Friday with 13 goals and 23 points and is also one of the team’s top penalty-killers, and Trocheck a strong two-way player and a good faceoff man who also kills penalties, the trio looks as if it could be a potential checking line that could match up against other teams’ top lines.
“There's speed there, there's attacking guys there, they can defend against anybody,’’ Gallant said in breaking down the attributes of the three players. “And I think that's what we did with our lines. I'm comfortable with anybody playing against anybody right now, and I don't have to worry about trying to match up this with this.’’
“It’s a mix of a few different things on our line,’’ Trocheck said. “Obviously, Chris brings a lot of speed that we can kind of rely on him to push defenses back. Jimmy has been playing really well with Mika [Zibanejad] and Kreids, starting to show his offensive ability out there. He’s been elusive, and playing really well on the penalty kill, defensively.
“So having those guys out there with me, it's making things a little bit more simple, a little bit more predictable, I guess you'd say, where I know exactly what they're doing and what I need to do.’’
Predictability is one thing Trocheck will certainly have with Vesey. The duo played hockey together when they were 9 years old for Vesey’s dad on the Junior Bruins back in Boston.
Meanwhile, Gallant is clearly hoping that Panarin may find some chemistry with Chytil, who scored a goal in Wednesday’s 5-1 win over Vegas in the first game of the road trip, and who formerly centered the dynamic Kid Line with wingers Alexis Lafrenière and Kaapo Kakko.
“Fil's really taken off, and when he uses speed up the middle of the ice, it opens up some room for Panarin,’’ Gallant said. “It’s been good so far.’’