Colin Blackwell has been struggling, and it’s time to take him off the top six

Top six winger Colin Blackwell has never really sat well with a good portion of the fan base. He’s been a great find and a solid player for the Rangers this year, but his spot in the lineup shouldn’t come at the cost of a kid like Kaapo Kakko. Yet for a good majority of the season, Blackwell has found himself with Artemi Panarin and Ryan Strome. For a while, he was fine. But as the season as progressed, Blackwell has declined.

Recent Play Has Slowed

The big concern with Blackwell is how his play away from the puck as tipped pretty rapidly. Again, this is not to say Blackwell is bad or that he shouldn’t be in the lineup. It’s to say that he is relatively miscast as a top-six winger.

His five game rolling averages have been in steady decline since the beginning of the season. I prefer these over season long numbers because it shows trends. In a short season, the season-long numbers can be skewed (and it’s a trap I do fall into regularly – I am trying to be better!). The steady decline started about 20-25 games ago.

A reason why we may not be seeing this translate to on-ice performance is his shooting percentage. Colin Blackwell is sporting a 20% shooting rate, which is fueling his time in the top six. That’s unsustainable for even the best shooters in the league, let alone a 28 year old who is getting his first real season in the NHL. Again, this is fine. Blackwell has proved himself to be a useful NHL player. However he is showing that he is riding Strome and Panarin on the second line, and has been for a few weeks now.

It’s Kakko Time

If there’s one player that has earned his time on the second line, it is Kaapo Kakko. As much as we know that development isn’t linear, Kakko’s development has shown that he deserves extended time with Strome and Panarin.

Kakko has turned into an elite defensive wing in just his sophomore season. He’s very strong on the puck and has great vision. We’ve seen those offensive flashes that show why he was a #2 overall pick. It’s time to put him with top-six players who can score seeemingly at will, and see how he does. Perhaps that offensive talent never shows up. But it seems likely it will.

Given how Vitali Kravtsov has performed in his short stint, getting him on the third line with Chris Kreider and Filip Chytil will balance out that line. Blackwell to the fourth line would still keep that line relevant, for the most part.

Big Picture

The big picture is important here. The Rangers are trying to develop the kids while also identifying their key depth players. I think they’ve done that. But right now, the lines are a little off. Lines do get thrown into blenders, as they should when they are struggling for consistency.

Colin Blackwell is a key depth player, but one that is miscast in the top six at the moment. The coaching staff has already begun that transition, with Kakko and Kravtsov moving up into the top-nine in a few recent games. Keeping that big picture in mind, Blackwell will round out that fourth line depth. Sometimes, it’s just a little tinkering that’s needed.

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  • You want a big talented winger to pair with Panarin and Strome — and maybe the smarter move, at least initially, is to try Kravtsov there instead of Kakko — just because Kakko and Chytil are pretty familiar with each other. Either way it will open up space for Panarin-Strome.

    • Yup, either works well. Time for Quinn to have some mental flexibility. The thing is, putting either of K brothers on either the 2nd or 3rd line would accelerate the kids’ development and maybe even improve the here and now. Do it Q!

      • Well I’ve been arguing for weeks now that Blackwell was falling off and not really adding anything to the 2nd line. Again, nice little story when he hit a hot streak, but he makes a small line even smaller — and when teams decide to buckle down and play some real defense he doesn’t have much to offer the line.

        If DQ wants to argue that Blackwell provides what Fast provided, he couldn’t be more wrong — unless he’s talking about being a veteran, but even then Blackwell has just 74 games under his belt which is less than Kakko … and Kakko is right now by far the better defensive player, the stronger player along the boards, etc. etc.

  • Your spot on %100! Blackwell is a great depth player and free agent signing. He’s been slotted and playing above is fighting weight all season.As the year has gone on this game has slipped . Put him on the fourth line where he belongs , which is not a knock. Let Kaako and Kravstov move up in the lineup and get the ice time and experience that they have earned And need

  • Kravtsov or Kakko? I might say Kravtsov, but either one on the top line would be great. Yes, Blackwell was a surprise and a nice plan B, but he is not a top 6 player. Put one of the youngsters there for the remaining games.

  • YES.

    The #1 pick has earned his place on the #1 line.

    KK has more than earned the Fast seat on this line. He’s become a dependable defensive forward and is a total beast in the corners and along the boards.

    Kreider and Chytil have looked good together. What they need is a clever playmaker on their right. Kravtsov will fit there perfectly

    • A Kreider/Chytil/Kravtsov line would offer speed, skill, and strength. It’d likely rule, which must be why Quinn hasn’t tried it.

    • Rod, spot on – and it makes sense to everyone but David “I invented North America hockey” Quinn. He is so caught up in outsmarting everyone and finding hidden gems, he’s missed the obvious that will cost the young talent invaluable playing experience. Laf hasn’t been developed under Quinn, he is doing what talent does when playing with other talent. Kratsov will also be “developed” by DQ as soon as he plays with NHL players and not named Howdy Doody. This team will go nowhere until they hire a solid NHL coach. Let’s Go Rangers!

  • Third line with Kreider a d Kappo as. It wings looks good. Give Kravtsov some 2nd line minutes and move Blackwell to 4th line.

    • Gauthier is AHL material.

      There is no room for him and he will be gone soon.
      – He is to slow.
      – Medium puck skills in the skill zone.
      – Takes to many penalties.
      – He is worst in the dz than Howden.
      – He doesn’t fit the team’s neutral zome scheme. Gauth needs to play in a much less aggressive nz system.

        • Right? The Kevin Hayes fan says “Gauthier’s too slow”—Hayes looks like he’s skating in knee deep quicksand most nights.

          • Ha, Hayes …. I mean of all the descriptions to lead off with on Gauthier, he picks “he is to[o] slow”?!

  • Blackwell is another Jesper Fast, a great bottom 6 playing above his weight, and getting all the adoration of the coaching staff over more skilled and talented players.

    • And Kakko is playing good defensive hockey. He’d be a natural for the Strome/Bread line. Krav shows some good awareness too.

    • Blackwell is no Jesper Fast, he couldn’t hold Jesper’s jock strap defensively … but other than that, sure. 😉

  • First and foremost he is miscast on the 2nd line.
    I’m going to get roasted for this, they should have sold high on him at the deadline.
    His stock wasn’t any higher than it was then. He is not a long term solution here. Maybe he could’ve brought back a bigger and grittier player,since Lemeiux requested a trade.
    Take the place of a Howden..
    Kravtsov should have gotten the crack on the 2nd line..

    • He was signed for depth and to satisfy one of the requirements for the expansion draft — and although that could change if they resigned PDG or Howden prior to the draft, he will likely remain to satisfy the requirement.

  • Hartford beat Bridgeport yesterday 3-2, Reunanen had a goal and an assist, Gettinger a goal, Barron 2 assists and Ronning an assist, Wall got the win.

    • Gettinger will never have a place here. Unless if he brings all the little qualties that a Jesper Fast type can do. The FO will fill up a spot open for him with a legit NHL bottom 6 player.

  • Kakko is toughest ranger on the puck. The kid extracts pucks from crowds every single time. He does not lose puck battles. He is perfect for the Panarin line. Strome will benefit even more. Kakko is The Man.

    As to the third line, I couldn’t tell you who will be the fastest. Chytil, Kreids or Kravs but they would fly. Fastest in league likely…

    • 100% agree with you on Kakko—the kid is a beast along the wall, and in one on one battles this season. Only going to get better at it too!

  • Agree wholeheartedly; put Blackwell @ 4C, Gauthier @ 4RW, and Kevin Rooney @ 4LW! Blackwell one of the better FO players, and as shown when Howden was out the PK functioned just fine! Are we really going to protect Howden/Blackwell/Rooney over Gauthier in Seattle expansion draft; that move would make Jeff Gorton look foolish, because we traded Joey Keane for him and at the time of the trade Keane was considered a highly rated prospect! Can’t let that happen🥶🥶

  • I get what you’re saying about Kakko and you’re probably right. But given where the Rangers are at the moment—on the periphery of the playoffs yet still very much alive, and add to that very little time to practice and implement change, I can totally understand why DQ does not want to make a change now. When you have six games left and staring a chance (albeit a long shot chance) to make the playoffs, the only consideration on his mind should be which line combinations give him the best chance to win this next game. It’s not about development and “holding the kids back” (one of the more overblown narratives I’ve been hearing for years now), it’s Al Davis time. Just win baby. This team hasn’t been perfect but they’ve been on quite a roll for like five weeks now. You go with what works.

    Believe me, these kids will not be stunted or held back if they don’t get an additional few minutes of ice time. They are very young and still learning the game. Specifically, learning about what it takes to win.

    If moving Kakko up and Blackwell down gives the Rangers a better chance to win Thursday night, then sure, do it. But hockey is about feel. There’s a reason why every Rangers forward wanted Jesper Fast on their line (even though this blog went nuts when AV did it and DQ followed suit). There’s a reason why he is so trusted in Carolina. He brings intangibles that can’t be measured.

    So is Kakko the better talent with more upside? Obviously. But that doesn’t mean DQ should make that switch on Thursday.

    • Come on triple E, Blackwell has done nothing for weeks and he’s no Jesper Fast. The guy is 28 and he’s played all tolled 25 LESS games in the NHL than Kakko. Jesper Fast is 10 times the player Blackwell is, Jesper Fast had a motor than never stopped running — there’s a reason why Fast won the Players’ Player Award so many times in a row. Honestly, if I’m Fast I would be insulted to constantly hear some Ranger fans mention that Blackwell serves the same purpose and possesses the same abilities.

      • I agree with you, there’s no comparison between Fast and Blackwell. I’m just saying we’ve heard the same thing before when AV and the DQ played Fast despite everyone saying there were better choices.

        I’m not a huge Blackwell fan. But he has far exceeded expectations. He’s trusted. I’d bet if you polled his line mates they probably trust him a lot.

        I’m just saying that I just don’t think there’s a lot of time for change. The team is the team. They’ve been doing a lot of winning the last five weeks. They’ve beaten the Islanders in that stretch as well. If there were several days off to just practice and create new chemistry then sure.

        The coach has to go with what is comfortable for everyone right now. If it works, great. If not, season over. Blackwell won’t be on the team next year anyway, and it’s on to creating a new dynamic with a legit training camp and pre-season schedule.

        I don’t fault the coach in this unusual year for not making a change at this juncture.

        • This coach gets on a thing with a player, good and bad, and doesn’t budge.

          Eventually that will be the reason why he will be fired.

          • But Richter my old friend, you must ask yourself, in this crazy COVID season, what opportunity is there to “budge”. And why would you “budge” if you’re winning? The Rangers have been doing a lot of winning the past five weeks doing it this way. Do you change it NOW with six games left and little practice time to successfully implement the change?

            I just don’t think that’s a fair analysis this season. Next season in a normal year, sure. And as I said before, he may well get fired in a year. It’s just too soon to tell. But on the whole I’d give him a B. He’s done a good job with what he’s been given under the COVID circumstance navigating his first NHL assignment.

          • Love ya bro.

            They’re beating bad teams. I posted last week their record since March 1 and half the wins were against the Devs and the Sabres.

            We’ll see the rest of the way, no games against those 2 teams.

            Don’t get sucked in by the wins against bad teams. The tic-tac-toe passes do not work against teams like the Isles, Bees, and Caps. They look pretty when they work but better D teams shut that sh-t down.

            These are playoff games the rest of the way. If they do better than .500 the rest of the way, then that’s finishing on a high note, regardless of whether they make the playoffs or not.

            But they have to show me.

  • Blackwell shouldn’t have been there to begin with.

    There’s a perfectly good player sitting on the bench for 50+ minutes per game that can play in the top 6.

  • The Rangers are not eliminated from the playoffs. Until they are, Coach Quinn should put out whatever lineup gives the team the best chance to win. Would a fresh talented Kravs be an upgrade on the 2nd line over a fading Colin Blackwell…Perhaps . But it is Quinns job that is on the line, so the decision lies with him.

  • Kappo had his chance on that line in the beginning of the season. It didn’t work out. Plain and simple. Maybe Strome/Panarin don’t like his play style. Maybe Kappo gets caught down low to often. Maybe Kappo is just to slow to play with them. There is a myriad of possibilities. We will never no the true answer. But it was more then a 1 game tryout and he has consistently tried again, granted the more recent chances definitely were a lot shorter in duration.

    But that is why Kravs has been given the opportunity there as of recently. Again off and on but atleast to the nay-sayers of Quinn …he sees it also and is trying to work it out. The unfortunate part is we keep pretending like we are in the playoff hunt and maybe after these next two games against the islanders we can finally see Kravs in a top 6 role regularly.

    I would like to add that Chytil and Kappo have chemistry. And I honestly have liked what I have seen since Kreider was demoted to their line. Problem is they can’t do it on the power play because they have no practice time to work out the kinks. Therefore kreider stays up on pp1. Which then throws everything out the window.

  • Kreider will remain on the PP. Until coach Quinn can find another suitable player that can stand at the side of the goal and allow pucks to bounce off of their skate, stick, or shinpads into the opposition net.

  • Colin Blackwell 41 games 12 goals 10 assists and 22 pts.
    Kappo Kakko 43 games 8 goals 8 assists and 16 pts.
    Who is struggling? Ans: Kakko

    • Kakko 8 goals is still 2 more then the Swedish sensation Jesper has mustered playing for the Cane.

    • Did you hit your head? One is playing with Panarin and Strome, the other played most of the year with a 19 year old rookie and a 21 year old.

    • Kakko’s quietly become one of the Rangers’ top defensive forwards, his possession numbers have been smokin’ throughout the season. The kid is an ox on the ice. Blackwell had a hot shooting month but has been nothing on the ice for the last 2-3 weeks.

      Blackwell’s lack of size has been attackedlateky by teams whose coaches pay attention to the games, like Trotz/Sullivan/Laviolette. Whereas Kaapo Kakko has the type of game that helps teams in playoff-type hockey.

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