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Wolski could get first shot at top-line left wing spot

by Dan Rosen
ZUG, Switzerland -- So, who's it going to be?

Brad Richards wants to know the identity of the player that will be on his left wing when the Rangers open the season Friday in Stockholm against Los Angeles in the 2011 Compuware NHL Premiere (1 p.m. ET, VERSUS, TSN).

Marian Gaborik certainly is curious.

Wojtek Wolski, Brandon Dubinsky, Ruslan Fedotenko and Brian Boyle also are invested in the answer.

"We have our thoughts," Rangers coach John Tortorella said. "I'm not going to talk about them now, but we've tried Wolly, Dubi, Brian Boyle and Fedotenko. It's become a little clearer for us, but we'll see what happens."

With Wolski sitting out Monday's game due to a sore groin, Tortorella used Fedotenko, Dubinsky and Boyle in that spot in the 8-4 loss to Swiss club EV Zug.

It was hard to tell if he liked any of them there.

"We have our thoughts. I'm not going to talk about them now, but we've tried Wolly, Dubi, Brian Boyle and Fedotenko. It's become a little clearer for us, but we'll see what happens." -- Rangers head coach, John Tortorella

"This was the time to experiment with it," Richards told after Monday's game. "It'll probably continue to happen as well. Who knows?"

Richards most likely is correct.

Arguably the only certainty pertaining to this topic is that the player who skates in that coveted spot Friday is not the final answer to a question every Rangers fan has been asking since Richards signed his nine-year, $60 million contract July 2.

Tortorella is notorious for changing his lines on a frequent basis, so whoever starts with Gaborik and Richards against the Kings may not even finish the game there, or start in that same spot Saturday against Anaheim (1 p.m. ET, VERSUS, TSN).

"It's been ongoing and you can tell he's still trying to figure it out," Richards told "We are, too."

Wolski remains the front-runner to win the spot alongside Richards and Gaborik for Friday's game. He appeared to click with the superstar duo during the Rangers' North American portion of training camp, but he also sat out the last two games.


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Tortorella expects Wolski to be ready for Wednesday's practice at Ericsson Globe Arena. If he's back doing line rushes with Richards and Gaborik, we'll have our answer.

"To be able to play with those types of players gives you a better opportunity every night to win, to play well and to be consistent," Wolski said. "As a forward, I'm supposed to put myself in position where I'm playing among the top-six guys. That's usually what is counted of me. I have to be creative and I want as much ice time as possible."

Tortorella is rooting for Wolski to work with Richards and Gaborik because it allows him to plot the rest of the lineup the way he wants.

He would be able to keep Dubinsky with Artem Anisimov and Ryan Callahan -- a second line that worked last season and has shown glimpses of what it can do again in the preseason.

Fedotenko then could play on the third line and Boyle could be a center or a wing in the bottom six depending on where Tortorella wants to play Derek Stepan, who also is capable of playing either position.

"It allows us more balance in our lineup," Tortorella said of having Wolski on the top line. "We'll see where it all goes."

While Richards is as curious as anyone, he and Gaborik still are trying to learn about each other. That's his main objective now.

The mystery left wing won't matter unless Richards and Gaborik click right away.

"We'd like to be doing better, but I'm not going to assess much right now," Richards said. "Let's get to the real part of it, the real ice we're used to playing on. It wouldn't matter if we had 10 goals each right now, we'd still be saying let's wait and see what happens in the regular season."

The waiting is almost over. The answers are coming.

Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter at: @drosennhl
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