Rangers’ Kakko & Chytil Poised to Improve This Season

One of the most exciting developments during the New York Rangers’ run to the Eastern Conference Final last season was the excellent play of their “Kid Line” of Alexis Lafreniere, Kaapo Kakko, and Filip Chytil. Though Lafreniere had a strong regular season, both Kakko and Chytil struggled.

After a few inconsistent seasons and a lot of injuries, Kakko and Chytil took a step forward with their impressive play last postseason. They will both be key players for the Rangers and they are both on track to have a breakthrough 2022-23 season.

Kaapo Kakko

After the Rangers selected Kakko second overall in the 2019 NHL Draft, the team had very high expectations for the young winger but he struggled during the 2019-20 season. It’s normal for players to go through some scoring droughts, especially rookies, but the Finnish winger scored just two goals in a 48-game stretch. Despite that stretch, he still managed to finish his rookie season with 10 goals and 13 assists in 66 games.

As a rookie, Kakko struggled defensively as he made too many bad decisions and shied away from contact. That changed dramatically in his second year, as he became a very responsible defensive forward. He used his reach to deflect passes and shots, rarely got caught out of position, and made safe plays with the puck.

Kaapo Kakko New York Rangers
Kaapo Kakko has not yet played to his potential with the New York Rangers (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Kakko also got stronger during his second season and looked much more comfortable playing in the NHL. He consistently helped the Rangers keep the puck in the offensive zone by shielding the puck with his body and he stopped shying away from contact.

Related: Comparing Kaapo Kakko’s Start to Former Second Overall Selections

However, Kakko did not produce offensively the way the Rangers hoped he would. He once again had long scoring droughts, including a 14-game stretch with no goals, and even though he created quite a few scoring chances, he did not capitalize on enough of them. In addition to his scoring droughts, he missed a few weeks with an upper-body injury and he finished the season with just nine goals and eight assists in 48 games.

Last season, Kakko continued to play well but once again was plagued with scoring droughts and injuries. He missed 39 games with a few different upper-body injuries and never seemed to get into a rhythm, finishing with seven goals and 11 assists in 43 games. He managed to stay healthy during the playoffs, and despite struggling to produce, he played very well.

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Kakko’s season ended after head coach Gerard Gallant surprisingly scratched him for Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Final against the Tampa Bay Lightning (the Rangers went on to lose the game and were eliminated.) Entering this season, the winger is motivated and if he can avoid the extended scoring droughts, then 15 goals and 40 points is a realistic projection for him.

Filip Chytil

The Rangers drafted Chytil in the first round of the 2017 NHL Draft, and like Kakko, he made his debut with the team as a teenager. As a rookie during the 2018-19 season, he scored two highlight-reel coast-to-coast goals but had an inconsistent season with some long scoring droughts. He really struggled on faceoffs, winning just 38.9 percent of them, and finished with 11 goals and 12 assists in 75 games.

Chytil showed improvement during his second season as he got stronger and improved his skating. He missed some time with an injury but still finished with 14 goals and nine assists in 60 games.

Filip Chytil New York Rangers
Filip Chytil had a strong second season with the New York Rangers (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Unfortunately, Chytil continued to miss time with injuries in each of the last two seasons, finishing with eight goals and 14 assists in each one. He improved on faceoffs a little bit but only managed to win 43.4 percent of them last season.

However, after a disappointing regular season, Chytil had an excellent postseason. His line consistently kept the puck in the offensive zone and generated scoring chances, and he showed a knack for scoring timely goals. He had seven goals and two assists in 20 postseason games even though he only averaged 13:24 in ice time per game.

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Chytil’s play last postseason was the best of his career and now he’ll look to carry that momentum into the 2022-23 season.

For Kakko and Chytil Moving Forward

The Rangers lost some of their key players from last postseason including Andrew Copp, Ryan Strome, and Frank Vatrano, while they only made one big offseason acquisition in Vincent Trocheck. They will have to rely on their young forwards this season, including Kakko and Chtyil, who will likely get more ice time, both at even strength and on the power play.

Kakko is still only 21 and Chytil is 23. Both have dealt with numerous injuries and have yet to reach their potential, but their play last postseason could be a turning point. They have both shown that they are capable of playing at a high level; they just need to prove they can do it for an entire season. If Kakko and Chytil can play the way they did last postseason, it will go a long way towards helping the Rangers make the playoffs this season.

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