Rangers expected lines for tomorrow include Brendan Smith, Kakko understands how to play hockey

Tell me if you thought Brendan Smith would be in the starting lineup tomorrow night. That indeed appears to be the case. Cue NYR Twitter panic attacks in 5, 4, 3, 2, 1…

The Rangers will ice a team that includes the secret weapon on the fourth line against the Jets in Thursday’s home opener. Coach David Quinn revealed why.

Here’s my takeaway. It’s Game 1 of 82. How they start the ’19-20 season won’t be how they finish. A point GM Jeff Gorton made when thoughtfully explaining to the media their roster decisions that saw Filip Chytil, Vitali Kravtsov and Ryan Lindgren all get reassigned to Hartford.

The bottom line is as special as it is to be introduced on Opening Night to the crowd at MSG, it’s only one game. There’ll be plenty of time for those kids to prove they deserve a chance with the big club. As Gorton stated, it could be sooner rather than later ‘if’ they play well.

Nothing is ever etched in stone. That’s what all the negative detractors in other places seem to forget. A rebuild doesn’t mean instant success right away with every young player ready to contribute. It means there’s some thought that goes into it. It’s a process that includes development and progression. Patience must be preached.

Even if I disagree with the decision to start Smith on the fourth line over Greg McKegg tomorrow, it doesn’t mean anything. Unlike other overreactionary fans influenced by NYR bloggers, I don’t panic over one game, or an actual good response from 18-year old rookie Kaapo Kakko on how different he must play.

He’s not talking about strong puck possession in the offensive zone. The second pick is smart enough to realize that he can’t turn over the puck in the neutral zone or the opponent’s blueline. That can cause a quick counterattack and odd man rush the other way. He’s smarter than the judgmental fans who think these guys will be able to hold onto the puck for their entire shift. Have any of them ever played or watched the sport closely?

Ask Artemiy Panarin about his costly mistake not getting the puck deep in Game Five at Boston. It resulted in the Bruins getting the winner to deal his former team Columbus a crushing defeat in the second round. You can’t always be the hero. Especially in a close checking tie game with points on the line.

The same thing applies to Smith starting on a surprising fourth line with Lias Andersson and Brendan Lemieux. Andersson probably deserves to start on the third line. However, it’ll be Brett Howden centering Vladislav Namestnikov and Jesper Fast instead for the first game.

That’s okay. What’s important is how Quinn’s staff handles the entire season. With improved depth and more talent, he’s going to try some different combinations. That includes the power play where Kakko got bumped down to the second unit for Pavel Buchnevich.

Right now, it’s gonna be Mika Zibanejad, Panarin, Buchnevich, Chris Kreider and Jacob Trouba on the first unit. The second unit will feature Kakko, Ryan Strome, Lemieux, Adam Fox and Tony DeAngelo. By adding Kakko to the second unit, it gives them more puck possession and skill. Not a bad way to go when they know Buchnevich had success last season by scoring a career high seven power play goals. That tied him with Kreider for second on the club behind Zibanejad, who led them with 11.

No matter what, tomorrow begins a New Era of Rangers hockey. Even if the new catchphrase is cheesy by our standards, #PlayLikeANewYorker is something everyone can get behind. That doesn’t stand for only skill and Corsi puck possession. But grit. Something every New Yorker is familiar with.

Let’s try to embrace what they’re doing. Enjoy the games for a change.

About Derek Felix

Derek Felix is sports blogger whose previous experience included separate stints at ESPN as a stat researcher for NHL and WNBA telecasts. The Staten Island native also interned for or hockey historian Stan Fischler and worked behind the scenes for MSG as a production assistant on New Jersey Devil telecasts. An avid New York sports fan who enjoys covering events, writing, concerts, movies and the outdoors, Derek has covered consecutive Staten Island Yankees NY Penn League championships in '05 and '06. He also scored Berkeley Carroll high school basketball games from '06-14 and provided an outlet for the Park Slope school's student athletes. Hitting Back gives them the publicity they deserve. In his free time, he also attends Ranger games and is a loyal St. John's alum with a sports management degree. The Battle Of Hudson administrator and chief editor can be followed below on Twitter and Facebook.
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