The New York Rangers have an impressive 33-15-5 record this season, but they have struggled to score goals recently. They have averaged just two goals per game in six games since returning from the All-Star break. The Blueshirts really miss Kaapo Kakko, who is out for at least a few more weeks with an upper-body injury, and they have yet to find an adequate replacement as a top-six forward.
Kakko’s Play This Season
Though Kakko hasn’t produced a lot offensively this season, he’s played very well defensively while still chipping in offensively. He became an important member of New York’s impressive penalty-kill unit, repeatedly using his reach to disrupt passes and winning one-on-one battles for the puck. At even strength, he made smart decisions with the puck and backchecked effectively.
Before his injury, Kakko played on the Rangers’ top line along with Mika Zibanejad and Chris Kreider. Although he struggled at the start of the season and didn’t have any points in his first 10 games, he provided the Blueshirts with a spark in their first game of the season against the rival New Jersey Devils in November. He had an assist, then scored a gorgeous go-ahead goal in the third period. He also scored a shootout goal, leading the Rangers to a 4-3 victory.
During a 15-game stretch which included the victory against the Devils, Kakko had five goals and five assists. However, in his next 12 games, he had no goals and four assists and repeatedly passed when he had scoring opportunities. Gerard Gallant, New York’s head coach, said that Kakko’s injury had nagged him for a while before he ultimately went on injured reserve so perhaps that contributed to his struggles.
In total, Kakko has five goals and nine assists in 37 games and his Corsi for percentage is 51.6 this season. He has not put up gaudy numbers but he was reliable and still produced more offensively than a lot of the Rangers’ other forwards.
Rangers Have Missed Kakko
While the Blueshirts top line of Zibanejad, Kreider, and Alexis Lafreniere has produced offensively, their other lines have struggled. The Rangers have yet to find a winger who can also produce offensively to play on their second line with Artemi Panarin and Ryan Strome. In their last few games, Gallant has opted to use Dryden Hunt on the line.
Hunt has just three goals and six assists in 48 games this season, and he had a sloppy turnover that led to a goal in New York’s 5-2 loss to the Vancouver Canucks on Sunday. Panarin has created quite a few scoring chances for both Hunt and Strome recently, but they have struggled to capitalize on those chances.
The Rangers also haven’t gotten much production from their third and fourth lines lately. Filip Chytil has yet to get into a rhythm, and Gallant has scratched him in two consecutive games. Kevin Rooney, who had six goals in his first 24 games of the season, has now gone 26 straight games without a goal. Barclay Goodrow has 11 goals and 11 assists but he is New York’s only bottom-six forward who has consistently chipped in offensively.
For the Rangers Moving Forward
The Blueshirts have missed Kakko as a top six forward, on the penalty kill, and on the second power-play unit. They have managed to win a lot of close games, relying heavily on their power play, top line, and the stellar play of Igor Shesterkin. However, with Kakko out at least a few more weeks, they could certainly use a forward who could provide some offense as the trade deadline approaches.
Whether or not the Blueshirts trade for a forward, getting Kakko back would be a big boost for them. Though he hasn’t yet played to his full potential, he is still a valuable player and he could be a difference-maker for the Rangers down the stretch.
I grew up in Brooklyn, New York, rooting for the Rangers, Yankees, Giants, and Knicks. When my dream of playing shortstop for the Yankees fell short, I started writing about sports instead. I’m a proud graduate of the Philip Merrill College of Journalism at the University of Maryland.