In case you missed it, the NY Rangers will not be releasing Alexis Lafreniere (Canada) and Kaapo Kakko (Finland) for the 2021 World Juniors this year. It’s the only bit of hockey news we have this month, but it was an expected piece of news. As per usual, I have some thoughts.
1. This isn’t a surprise. While getting in live game experience is good, both Kakko and Lafreniere have little to gain. Both have steamrolled competition in their last appearances in the World Juniors. They’d be doing more of the same, except a year older. What else is there to gain? They both need to play at the next level up. It is not a mistake to hold them back.
2. The risk to injury is also too great for them as well. Why risk a freak injury that could possibly impact their careers? That’s unlikely to happen, but even a tweak or a soft tissue injury could impact them in the short term. Given Kakko’s struggles last year, any setback would be an issue. Keeping both Alexis Lafreniere and Kaapo Kakko away from the World Juniors is the smart thing to do.
3. Speaking of Kakko’s issues, I think it’s safe to say he didn’t really belong in the NHL last year. That’s fine! The kid is still 19, and he had a bad year as an 18 year old. He looked much better in the three game sprint in August. He’s also going to get time with Artemi Panarin this season, which should help. The kid is too talented to not adjust properly to the NHL. Most of his issues came from an adjustment issue, and not a lack of skill.
4. The biggest thing for Kakko was the smaller ice size. He had time to read the play with the puck on his stick. In the NHL, he needs to know what to do before the puck gets to him, or he needs to work to create time. The big thing to look for when (if?) the season gets started is how he creates that space. Skating into his passes to get that separation is key.
5. Back to Lafreniere, he’s not going to put up 100 points in his rookie year. We will have a post on reasonable expectations for him in the near future, but let’s just get this out of the way. He’s not Connor McDavid. He may put up a few seasons of 100+ points, but not immediately, and not in the role he’s going to play out of the gate.
6. Remember, the Rangers already have Artemi Panarin and Chris Kreider as LWs, giving the Blueshirts the option to ease Lafreniere into the NHL. Plus there is a big benefit in letting Lafreniere get third line matchups against lesser opponents.
7. Lucky Number 7 Bonus: Chris Kreider will be the next captain of the NY Rangers. Just my prediction.