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.
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.