Thoughts on the Rangers holding Lafreniere and Kakko from the World Juniors

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.

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  • Seems to me this is more of a signal that there WILL BE hockey this season at some point.

    IMHO, there’s really no reason to keep them out if you’re really doubting there will be a season. An injury risk, or even a freak injury isn’t really a big concern if there is no NHL hockey on the horizon. There’d be plenty of time to heal if there’s no season at all. So, to me, this is much more of an early indicator that as things stand today, Gorton is figuring there will be a season in 2021.

  • Again the “afraid they might get injured” argument holds no water” Hockey players play hockey that’s what they do.

    Should the Rangers just keep their players in the dressing room watching old hockey videos to keep their players safe, before the puck drops next year. I mean heaven forbid if a roster player tweaks their groin in practise or scrimmaging.

    The World juniors is a great opportunity for Kakko and Lafreniere to sharpen their hockey skills playing with and against the best young players on the planet. It will also get them in game shape before the season starts.

    You don’t hear of any NHL teams holding young players back from the Traverse Hockey Tournament. So why not allow them to participate in the more competitive World Juniors.

    I yet to see a logical explanation from the Ranger organization or any of my respected fellow blogger as to why Laf and Kak should not participate in the World Juniors.

    Except perhaps, they don’t want a Team Canada/Team Finland final. Puck envy perhaps?

  • I don’t know about this. I come from a different world when the time called for me to begin a new season. As a native New Yorker, most us were 3 seasonal athletes. We played 2-way football that ran into hockey season. I can’t imagine being away from the rink for that long and coming back ready to go. Going from state finals into a random hockey game was like no other feeling I had gone through. It was the first time I didn’t have a full week or so of hockey practice, or pre season tournament. I personally hated it, I needed the time adjust to get my mental state right. It was a type of rhythm that I got into from all the early arrivals of Bantam hockey tournaments.. Just food for thought. I couldn’t imagine being away from the game for that long. And as a rookie at the professional level?

    If I couldn’t get in 5-6 days of wall ball before my first lacrosse practice.. Forget about it, I would be a walking corpse with a stick in my hand. That sport was the worst if your timing/reads were off.

    I’m calling it now, Joe Thornton is about to unleash beast mode.. Preps is everything in the world of athletics. Let’s hope that both young men (Kakko/Laffy) are in the gym and on the ice taking no days off..

  • With the uncertainty regarding the NHL, I’m unsure if this is a wise move — that said I don’t think it’s a bad move. Place it somewhere on the scale between neutral and positive. I would say the same thing if they allowed them to play … any time you get a chance to represent your country it’s not a negative.

  • Representing your Country as an athlete is a privilege very few men and women get to experience. Again, it’s a privilege. I’m sure if given the choice both kids would have opted for playing wearing their respective Countries sweater. Management feels holding them out of the WJ’s is a smart move. I’m sure they have exceptionally good reasons for doing so. I agree with tanto, one can make a case either way. Personally, I’ll trust JD and his management are making the right call for the NY Rangers.
    Daman I can’t wait for the games to start……………….

  • This is a no brainer decision for both players. It has nothing to do with fear of injury or national pride. It’s simply about Covid. Kaapo has JV diabetes and Laf is the #1 overall pick. Why would any team jeopardize the health of either of these two young talented assets? As we all know by now Covid-19 affects everybody differently. Even if you get over it, sometimes it can leave permanent side affects with people. Rangers making the right decisions here.

  • While I normally would say, let the kids play, the damn virus is still posing a danger around the world. It is highly contagious making it difficult to protect people. With Kakko’s underlying diabetes, it is probably best that he not participate.

    I feel for the kids who are aspiring to be pros. I feel for the student athletes at schools and colleges all over. The kids want to play, and in some cases they can, but it has to be done right.

  • Down the road Lafreniere Could move to the top line with CK on the right.Kaako should start the year on Strome’s line with Breadman.

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