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The Importance Of Kaapo Kakko In The New York Rangers Lineup

If one entity was missed during November and December, it was the importance of Kaapo Kakko in the New York Rangers lineup. With just three goals to his name now, the former second-overall pick in 2019 plays a bigger role than fans think. Since Kakko’s injury, the first-line right-wing position has been the equivalent of a revolving door in a hotel lobby.  Now that he is fully healthy, Kakko revives his past tenure playing with Chris Kreider and Mika Zibanejad.

Now approaching the all-star break, points are turning into crucial necessities for all 32 teams in the NHL. For New York, they are especially needed given the competitiveness of the Metropolitan Division. After last night’s win over the Seattle Kraken, the Rangers possess a four-point lead over the second-place Philadelphia Flyers with a game in hand. Kakko and the Blueshirts will embark on a four-game Western American road trip starting on Thursday against the Vegas Golden Knights. Here are a few reasons why the Turku, Finland native plays an integral role in Peter Laviolette‘s squad.

The Importance Of Kaapo Kakko In The New York Rangers Lineup

Defensive Prowess

Part of the importance of Kaapo Kakko in the lineup is his overall skillset. As a draft prospect, many pointed out his wrist shot. Others said it was ability to get to the net. What makes Kakko standout the most is his defensive mindset. It goes underappreciated because when people think of forwards, automatically their minds shift to offence. It’s never takeaways and hits, rather nothing but goals and assists. The numbers will come as long as Kakko and the first line regain their momentum. The defensive part of Kakko’s game will never tarnish and it will keep him in the Selke Trophy conversation for years to come.

The odds of Kakko winning the Selke are slim-to-none because of the existence of players like Aleksander Barkov and Anze Kopitar. Do not be surprised if he gets a nominee if his career goes as planned. His ability to hold up an entire play is superb. What that shows is his confidence in both his hockey I.Q. and his confidence. As long as his mentality remains the same, Kakko will continue to be an impressive defensive forward.

While the Rangers are on this upcoming road trip, keep an eye on the first line. Kreider will remain at the front of the net. Zibanejad will continue to be the playmaking sniper we all know and love. What Kakko does off of the puck impresses many. He will muck it up along the boards with anyone getting in his way. It is only fitting that his two linemates make up the next reason why #24 is a key asset.

First Line Familiarity

Blake Wheeler and Will Cuylle were two names that made their way through the previously mentioned revolving door. RW1 was a position that many fans and insiders linked to a possible deadline move for New York. Kakko has the opportunity to retain his confidence and familiarity playing alongside both Kreider and Zibanejad.

With only two goals to his name prior to his injury, it was almost as if Kakko did not miss a beat. In his last two games, the Finland-born winger proved that he should stay within the top six. He was picking up his assignments by marking the opposition. He has even proved that he can lead a breakout when called upon. If Kreider and Zibanejad are flying up the flanks, leave it to Kakko to control the centre of the ice when exiting their own zone.

The goal scored on Tuesday showed the relief and the weight coming off of his shoulders. No one likes missing an extended period of time due to injury. We all witnessed it this season with both him and Filip Chytil, who is skating back in his homeland of Czechia. The goal resembled the Kaapo Kakko that was promised to the Garden faithful when his named was called back in 2019. His passion, his confidence, and his charisma are traits that simply cannot be taught. You can tell that Kakko’s return means a lot to both him and his teammates.

Rangers Return on Thursday “Knight”

New York is back in action on Thursday when they take on the reigning, defending, undisputed Stanley Cup Champions in the Vegas Golden Knights. Bruce Cassidy‘s team are placed in second in the Pacific Division, seven points back of the Vancouver Canucks. The Golden Knights will be without forward Jack Eichel who underwent lower-body surgery and will be out week-to-week.

Puck drop is scheduled for Thursday at 10 p.m. EST from T-Mobile Arena.

Main Photo: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports


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