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Rangers Look to Rekindle Chemistries With Line Combinations

by Matt Calamia @MattCalamia /

New faces are scattered throughout the Rangers' roster, but early on some familiar trios and pairs have been reunited in an attempt to rekindle past success.

Through the first two days of practice with what is expected to be nearly the finalized roster for opening night, Mika Zibanejad has skated between Chris Kreider and Pavel Buchnevich. Meanwhile, Kevin Hayes has pivoted between J.T. Miller and Michael Grabner, reuniting two of the Rangers' most successful lines from a season ago.

The Zibanejad trio was arguably the Rangers' most effective in the early part of last season before both Zibanejad and Buchnevich succumbed to injuries in November. But they played together a bit in the preseason and have been practicing as a unit and Zibanejad is hoping they can pick up where they left off.

"It was still there," Zibanejad said of the familiarity. "Same thing as the playoffs last year. When we got placed together we played well.

"We know where we have each other," he continued. "We sit next to each other in the locker room and spend some good time together. It's been good. I like playing with those two."

Rangers Associate Coach Scott Arniel said the success of that line from last season is what prompted the staff to give it another look in 2017-18.

"Early in the year last year we had Kreids with Buchy and Mika. Buchy had his injury and so did Mika, so it was something that was good for us early that we wanted to take another look at," he said. "We've done that so we'll see that and probably start the year with those guys."

The Hayes line was one of the most effective third lines in the NHL last season, and not coincidentally, both Hayes and Miller had career-years in points while Grabner's 27 goals were his most since his first full season in the NHL back in 2010-11.

"I'm sure that was part of the reason we started together," Miller said of the line's history. "We've had a lot of time together and we're really comfortable with each other on and off the ice, and I think that's really helpful. We have good chemistry when we come to the rink. We're really excited and we're looking forward to the opportunity. We've got to make sure we play a good 200-foot game together, which I think we can do."

Miller said what made the line so successful last season was its DNA; every member brings something different to the table.

"You have Grabs' speed and breakaway ability and get loose from the opponents and push the D back," Miller said. "He's obviously really good at both ends of the rink too. Hayes' size and ability to hang on to the puck, he's a really good passer who can make plays. I try and be on the forecheck and be the physical one on the line and try to get the puck back for those two."

Arniel had praise for the Hayes line and said familiarity makes the games easier for the players.

"That line was fantastic for us for two-thirds of the year," he said. "Some things happened where we changed that up. Any time for players if you ask them about playing with guys they've had history with it makes the game easier."

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