Rangers/Hurricanes Matchup: The X-Factors

New York Rangers hockey returns tonight in their tune-up before the play-in round against the Carolina Hurricanes. The Canes are a very good team with depth, but the Rangers have some high end skill that can give them trouble. While the Canes are overall structured better, there are some x-factors that could impact the series.

Kaapo Kakko

The second overall pick is incredibly skilled, but struggled this year. Part of it was adjusting to the new ice size. However a big chunk of it was likely due to fatigue. Kakko has been a machine at camp and looks like he’s ready to take that next step. With Kakko rolling, he adds a dangerous tertiary scoring threat to the Rangers that the Canes will have trouble matching up against.

A rested Kakko also makes that PP2 unit much more dangerous. Currently the first powerplay is almost automatic, but the second unit is hit or miss. Making that unit more dangerous and more consistent gives the Rangers a huge edge.

Filip Chytil

Much like Kakko, a hot streak from Chytil will add to that tertiary scoring. This is something the Rangers are going to need desperately if they want to match Carolina’s depth. Luckily they both play on the same line, so if they both get going, it likely won’t matter who their other winger is. Both are top-six potential, and both looked good in camp.

Kakko and Chytil are basically attached at the hip, as they are on PP2 together. Scoring depth is going to be critical for the Rangers. As automatic as that top-six was, nothing is guaranteed. As it stands today, the Rangers will need that top-six to be lights out in order to beat Carolina. A dangerous Kakko/Chytil combo makes the reliance on those top-two lines less urgent.

Vincent Trocheck

Obviously Carolina is going to have some x-factors, and starting with one of their fresh new toys makes sense. Trocheck was brought in to give the Canes balanced scoring outside of that dangerous top line. Trocheck’s production in Florida was good, but not great. But it was Florida. Carolina is obviously better.

Trocheck has the potential to give the Canes much more top-end scoring, meaning the Rangers weak blue line is more exposed. The good news for the Rangers is that Trocheck hasn’t had much time to adjust to the Canes. If he’s mediocre, then the Rangers have a significant top-six advantage.

Brady Skjei

Yes, Brady Skjei. Another new toy for the Canes, Skjei will be thrust into a larger role with both Brett Pesce and Dougie Hamilton out. We will soon find out if the Rangers ruined Skjei. He is very skilled and a deft puck mover. If he makes quick decisions to help neutralize the Rangers’ forecheck, then the Canes won’t miss Dougie at all.

Of course Skjei could be a turnover machine, someone the Rangers could target on the forecheck. Getting the forecheck established is a critical success factor for the Rangers.