The IIHF has released their 2021 schedule, and with it comes the 2021 World Juniors. Both Kaapo Kakko and Alexis Lafreniere are eligible to participate in the World Juniors, but will the Rangers let them? Does the start date of the 2021 NHL season have an impact on their decision?
The NHL is targeting a January 1 start date, but in a COVID world, that is far from set in stone. The only thing we do know is that it won’t be any earlier than January 1, but it could be later.
A January 1 Start Date
Since this is what the NHL is targeting, we have to assume this is going to be on the table for as long as possible. Training camp and preseason –if there is a preseason– would likely begin either the first or second week of December.
In this case, the Rangers are extremely unlikely to send either to the World Juniors. The Rangers opted to keep Kaapo Kakko off Finland’s roster last year, and it makes sense that they would do the same with him this year.
Lafreniere is a bit of a different situation. It would be his first NHL season, but he could get a decent tune up in international competition instead of a truncated NHL preseason. However, like Bob McKenzie noted, the Rangers are unlikely to have him participate either.
My sense is also that NYR would rather have him in NHL training camp in December and/or January preparing for the 20-21 regular season, whenever that may begin. The notional target of Jan. 1 is just that. A notional target.
— Bob McKenzie (@TSNBobMcKenzie) October 20, 2020
The Blueshirts will want their first ever #1 overall pick to be with the team and get him as much NHL experience as possible.
A Delayed Start
If the January 1 target doesn’t come to fruition, then things may change. If the season gets delayed long enough, then the option to send both Kakko and Lafreniere to the World Juniors remains open. One thing to keep in mind is when training camps and preseason start. It’s safe to assume that as long as there is overlap, then the NHL season will take precedence over the World Juniors.
Would the Rangers actually send them both to the World Juniors though? It’s a risky proposition. The pair represent the future for the Blueshirts. Any injury outside of the NHL could be disastrous. Imagine the backlash if that happened?
On the flip side, watching Alexis Lafreniere and Kaapo Kakko in the World Juniors could be something we need. 2020 has been multiple gut punches for all of us, so watching them dominate would be therapeutic. The only way this happens is if there is a big delay.