Rangers need their kids to be okay

The New York Rangers were a very good team last year, with very obvious flaws and very few paths to improve. The Eastern Conference finalists were frustrated and signed into some big and long deals, so there wasn’t much they could do this summer to improve the odds of taking the next step. Gone are Ryan Strom and three beneficial business acquisition deadlines; In Vincent Trochek (ed.). This is likely to be the case for all. Reinforcements from Hartford will not come this year. If the Rangers are to become true competitors, the improvement must come from within – from the young men who are already on the roster. Fortunately for them, they have a pair of potential candidates.

Not only has Alexis Lavrinier, the first overall pick of 2020, looked completely out of place in his brief NHL career, but he also hasn’t made a strong statement where he fits. He’s a natural left winger, but Rangers’ top six are set in this position with Chris Kreider and Artemi Banarin. (“There’s not much room on the left side, I’m still small,” Banarin joked.) So Lafreniere spent most of his pro minutes skating with depth lines — occasionally for impact, with “Kid Line” shining inconsistently in the post-season, but mostly for walker results. This year is different. Driven by sheer necessity (Vitaly Kravtsov’s injury, which is a big question mark anyway) and what coaches and teammates have identified as new confidence in pre-season, The 21-year-old played mostly on the right side, along with Panarin and Troschek.

With two matches – reliable Rangers beating opponents in Lightning and the Wild – Lafreniere searched the whole world as if he belonged to an elite unit. On Thursday in a 7-3 win in Minnesota, Lavrenier put in two goals in the first half, first Disc centered through heavy traffic on driving Adam Foxthen leaves his station to go rescue a puck in the corner and find Banarin with a neat backhand.

This was Lafreniere’s first professional multi-assist game, and it was hard to tell he was playing off position. Not that he really has a choice. “We all know he prefers the left wing, but he has to go to the right side and he will play well there and do his job,” said coach Gerard Gallant.

Laf seems to be taking it in stride: the allure of playing against Panarin, who made his career by raising his teammates, strong. “Obviously I want to play with them,” Lavrinier said. “I think they are really good players. I have to keep working on my game on the right side and try to improve.”

If there aren’t many questions about what Lafreniere can bring to the team, the same can’t be said of Kaapo Kakko. Nobody wants to top the B-word, but Kakko – also 21 – entered the season with just 59 points in 157 career games. He’s shown flashes, sometimes slowing down due to injuries, but his production is a long way from what the Rangers expected when they drafted him for second in 2019, knocking out international tournaments where he was a single player. Kakko signed a bridge deal this summer, but he is no longer considered untouchable through the trade, and there are questions about Gallant’s confidence in him, after the Finn was a healthy scratcher for Game 6 from ECF last spring. This is a hit-or-fail year for Kaku, and he may not even get a full year, if the deadline passes and the Rangers want to round up the Patrick Kane acquisition deal.

Kakko will get his chance to prove what he can do. Due to the Rangers’ lack of depth, 1RW has become a default, stepping on Friendship Line Krider – Mika Zipanjad which previously had a right wing rotary splint. It’s a good place for anyone, perhaps especially for a young player who would benefit from having the space to get things done.

Look what happened last night, after Zibanijad slipped a Kakko CD at the bottom. With Zibanijad and Kryder playing havoc with Wilde’s defenders with just their presence, Kakko showed some stamina and handled the drooling disc in the front office three years ago. This is the goal of a mature man:

Kakko won’t necessarily have to score to make this streak effective, which will likely be a heavy burden on his shoulders. “We’re three big bodies, so there’s kind of a way we want to play in the O-zone.” Crieder said.

“The most impressive thing [Kakko] Under examination and its ability to fall under the hands. He began to realize that, to trigger the attack, it had to be stopping forcing players, and being effective in forward checking and hitting players back into the net, which he kept doing. He is a man who wants to make an impact – and he will make an impact. He will impose his will on the matches – and things will get better.”

we will see. Two games are two matches, even if they are both dominant shows against excellent teams. But if the Rangers want to become a team with a serious chance at the cup, the maturity of Lavrinier and Kaku is not really optional.

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