Rangers: Tempering Expectations for Rookie Forwards

The New York Rangers are in a position they haven’t been in for a long time: The team is made up of almost exclusively very young players.

Last season we saw the official career debuts of several notable players, such as Filip Chytil, Lias Andersson, and Brett Howden. This season’s focus will now be on rookies Kaapo Kakko and Vitali Kravtsov.

Both of these players have the potential to be dominant forces in the NHL. It is unknown how quickly the two will acclimate to playing at a higher level but, once they do, it could be quite the show.

Vitali Kravtsov

When Kravtsov was selected ninth overall in the 2018 NHL Entry Draft, Rangers fans were dissatisfied. After watching prized prospect Oliver Wahlstrom fall down to them in the first round, most expected him to be the pick.

Instead, the Rangers reached for Kravtsov, who was projected to go in the later half of the first round, and left Wahlstrom go to the New York Islanders. Clearly, the Rangers’ scouting department did their homework because Kravtsov is a remarkable player.

Vitali Kravtsov Team Russia
Vitali Kravtsov, Team Russia, 2019 IIHF World Junior Championship (Photo by Rich Lam/Getty Images)

There aren’t too many things he is bad at. He is an extremely smooth skater and gets up and down the ice quickly. His offensive awareness and knowledge of attack zone play-making make him a lethal passer at even strength and on the powerplay. This is a player who is going to connect cross-ice passes on the man advantage seamlessly.

Kravstov is an exceptionally smart player with the puck and away from it. In addition to his passing abilities, he can also score. He is the NHL’s version of an NBA point guard.

The key to remember is, as great as Kravtsov might be one day, he is still a rookie. Young players can go through a plethora of growing pains as they enter the league. Look at Chytil for example. He showed flashes of excellence, but then would disappear for games on end.

Vitali Kravtsov New York Rangers Draft
Vitali Kravtsov, New York Rangers, 2018 NHL Draft, Dallas, TX, June 22, 2018 (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

At this age, players are unlikely to be superstars right away. What helps is that Kravtsov has been playing against high quality competition in the KHL for years now. He is as ready as he’ll ever be to play in the NHL.

Kravtsov, in his transition to North America, has proven that he is a very quick learner. I think he’ll experience plenty of growing pains, but I also believe he is going to prove this season that he was the right pick at ninth overall.

Stat-Line Prediction: 10 goals – 28 assists – 38 points

Kaapo Kakko

Generational talents are hard to come by. More often than not, the teams that have the first few picks are the ones who end up with these kinds of players. Well, the Rangers were lucky enough to be one of those teams.

Jonas Muller Kaapo Kakko
Germany’s Jonas Muller checks Finland’s Kaapo Kakko (THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP, Petr David Josek)

Despite finishing above the bottom five in the standings last season, the Rangers were given a stroke of luck when they were awarded the second overall pick in the 2019 NHL Entry Draft, which they used to select Kaapo Kakko of Finland.

Already nicknamed the “Finnish Force,” Kakko has been compared to some of the all-time greats. Some have referred to him as the modern day Jaromir Jagr, others say he has flashes of Teemu Salanne.

Regardless of to whom he is compared, Kakko is going to be one of the league’s premier players for the next generation. The Rangers nabbed their most important building block with this rookie.

He does everything well. He is a tremendous skater and can evade all kinds of defensive pressure. His stick handling is elite. But what might be the most impressive aspect, is his ability to possess the puck. No matter what zone he is in, Kakko can hold onto the puck and control the pace of the game like no one else from this year’s draft.

Kappo Kakko Rangers Draft
Kappo Kakko, New York Rangers, 2019 NHL Draft (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers

He has good size and speed for his age, and has a spectacular ability to put pucks in the net and set up his teammates. He is the definition of an elite, generational talent. You’ve heard of Connor McDavid, Sidney Crosby, Patrick Kane, and Alex Ovechkin. Soon you’ll understand the hype surrounding the Finnish Force.

Stat-Line Prediction: 19 goals – 38 assists – 57 points

Kravtsov and Kakko are going to be names heard around the league for years to come. While it is important to remember that they are rookies, it should be hard for Rangers fans to temper their excitement for this upcoming season.