The Rangers kids are showing they deserve their ice time
Heading into the season, there was a sense of optimism surrounding the Rangers kids. Both Kaapo Kakko and Alexis Lafreniere would expected to be given legitimate ice time and shots to stay in the top-six. Kakko started in the top six, with Lafreniere on the third line for 2 shifts until the first Vitali Kravtsov injury. Since then, neither has left the top six, and these Rangers kids are showing they belong.
The biggest strides have come from Kaapo Kakko, who has cemented himself as a critical play driver on the top line. This is the player the Rangers thought they were getting in the draft, it just took a year away from David Quinn for Kakko to gain his confidence back.
A difference in this year’s version of Kakko to last is the strength on the puck and the willingness to shoot. Too many times we saw Kakko defer to linemates after making great plays to drive to the net, only to pass the puck. He’s much more assertive with his game, and it’s showing up in his excellent puck possession metrics. Kakko even survived Gallant’s lineup shakeup yesterday.
It’s again a bit too early for RAPM charts (they are less predictive this early and more of an evaluation of the first 10% of the season), but Kakko has taken major strides this year. But much like all the other Rangers, his goals haven’t come. That’s most likely a product of bad shooting luck, and should correct itself by the end of the year.
Lafreniere has similar play driving metrics to Kakko, just with more emphasis on quantity over quality. That may be a product of Lafreniere’s line, as the second line with Artemiy Panarin and Vincent Trocheck was more of a track meet line. They generated a lot, but let up a lot as well.
Remember, Lafreniere put up 19 even strength goals last year, yet doesn’t get powerplay time. That will severely limit his offensive output in terms of sexy counting stats. But again, there is a confidence in Lafreniere, like with Kakko, that we didn’t see previously.
The Rangers kids were the focus of much discourse over the last few seasons, with some irresponsibly throwing out the ‘bust’ word. The Rangers kids are not busts, and we are seeing that word disappear from the discussion. They’ve earned their ice time, and are a major reason why the Rangers are as well rounded as they are (or appear to be).