Welcome to New York Rangers Weekly! The Rangers have been on nearly a two-week break since their last game on Feb. 1. The Blueshirts will return from the All-Star break to play the Boston Bruins at Madison Square Garden on Feb. 15 at 7:00 PM ET. Chris Kreider helped the Metropolitan Division win the NHL All-Star Game on Feb. 5 by contributing a goal and an assist in two games against the Pacific and Central Divisions.
The Rangers will look to continue their momentum against the Bruins that they finished with in their last game played against the Florida Panthers – a 5-2 victory. The Blueshirts will be without one of their young players in Kaapo Kakko for a bit longer than expected. Let’s take a look at some of the latest headlines surrounding the franchise.
Kakko Out at Least a Month With Upper-Body Injury
The former second overall selection by the Rangers in the 2019 NHL Draft suffered an upper-body injury at some point during January. He did not play in the game on Jan. 22 against the Arizona Coyotes and was placed on injured reserve (IR). Kakko has five goals and nine assists in 37 games played in 2021-22.
Kakko is expected to be out for at least another month. Before he was injured, the 21-year-old forward had been playing regularly in the top six – either with Mika Zibanejad and Chris Kreider or Ryan Strome and Artemi Panarin. Head coach Gerard Gallant alluded that Barclay Goodrow could have more of a role on the second line in the absence of the Blueshirts’ injured player, “It’s based on our roster, more than anything. I’m seeing who’s in, who’s out, you know? I like [Goodrow] anywhere. He plays good anywhere. When he played with Stromer and Bread a little bit, he had real good success there, some offensive points, they had a real good three or four games together. When Dryden Hunt plays up there, too, he brings some forechecking to that” (from ‘Barclay Goodrow replacing Kaapo Kakko may create other Rangers issues’, New York Post, 2/12/22).
Gallant complimented Kakko’s play, “Kakko is a real good defensive player. He was playing fine. He wasn’t scoring as much as he likes, but I liked his game. He’s an intelligent player, he’s played a lot with the top lines and he’s trending in the right direction. There’s nothing I didn’t like about him all year. He would just like to score more, we would like to see him score a little bit more but we liked his game. He was playing with two players who are having great seasons in Kreider and Zibanejad and was solid with them” (from ‘Kaapo Kakko not close to Rangers return from upper body injury’, New York Post, 2/11/22).
Kakko’s return will be delayed until mid-March and it remains to be seen if president/general manager (GM) Chris Drury will acquire any forwards by the Mar. 21 trade deadline. The Rangers have had a need for depth at forward since the trade of Pavel Buchnevich to the St. Louis Blues for Sammy Blais last offseason. The latter has been on season-ending IR after he sustained a torn anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) during a game on Nov. 14.
Will Kravtsov Remain With the Rangers Beyond the Trade Deadline?
Vitali Kravtsov is playing for Traktor Chelyabinsk of the Kontinental Hockey League (KHL) during the 2021-22 season after he refused assignment to the Hartford Wolf Pack of the American Hockey League (AHL). The former first-round pick by the Rangers in the 2018 Draft did not make the final cut for the Rangers prior to the beginning of the current NHL season. The KHL ended their season early due to concerns over COVID-19. The playoffs will begin on Mar. 1.
Kravtsov has six goals and seven assists in 19 games played for Traktor this year. According to Elliotte Friedman, the 22-year-old forward plans to return to North America, “I’ve been told [Kravtsov] has been telling teams he plans on coming back to North America. The other thing too is that he’s going to have to go on waivers. So it’s not like (the acquiring) team is going to send him down to the minors. They’re going to give him a shot to play.”
If Kravtsov is not traded by the deadline, he could be acquired by another team in a trade at the 2022 Draft. It is possible but not likely that he plays for the Rangers again given the apparent fallout between him and Drury. A young team could be the best suitor for the Vladivostok native.
Fox, Nemeth & Chytil Expected to Return Versus Bruins
Adam Fox sustained an upper-body injury toward the end of January and missed the last three games for the Rangers prior to the break. After practice on Feb. 12, he said regarding missing games due to his injury, “You’re a little antsy watching the games and obviously you want to be out there. For me, it just puts a little bit into perspective. You know, guys like [Sammy Blais] who is out for a long period of time and you feel for them a little more, for sure. Definitely want to get back out here when you’re watching and excited to get back out there. I think with timing, it was just easier to take the cautious route and not rush back” (from ‘Adam Fox feeling 100 percent after first stint on Rangers’ injured reserve,’ New York Post, 2/13/22).
Gallant commented about the absence of the third-year defenseman, “You obviously miss him because he’s such a great player. He’s not just our best defenseman, but he was a Norris Trophy winner. The way he moves the puck. But, to be honest with you, [Zac Jones] came up and played and our D played really good those last couple of games, they played solid hockey. They played as good as they could play and I was happy with them. It’s nice to see when a guy like Fox or those top players that are out of your lineup and guys come up and play well.”
Patrik Nemeth was not available for the last five games before the break due to “personal reasons.” The Rangers’ head coach commented on the defenseman’s current status, “We’re not sure he’s back yet. He’s not in the lineup yet for Tuesday [against the Bruins], for sure. We’re going to take our time with him and make sure everything goes good and we’ll see where it goes.”
Filip Chytil, who sustained a lower-body injury during January, is close to returning for the Rangers. Before the game on Feb. 1, Gallant said about the progression of the 22-year-old from his ailment, “He looked good for the practice, it was a hard practice, so hopefully tomorrow we’ll see. He’s still day-to-day, but hopefully tomorrow it’s a good thing and he gets a chance to play” (from ‘Filip Chytil’s return to Rangers practice brings optimism he’ll play soon,’ New York Post, 1/31/22).
The Rangers are close to having a healthy roster aside from Blais and Kakko. New York has two games scheduled this week – Feb. 15 against the Bruins and Feb. 17 versus the Detroit Red Wings at home. The Blueshirts will look to continue their good play this season with 35 games remaining in 2021-22.