2019 second-overall pick Kaapo Kakko hasn’t burst out of the gates to start his NHL career as many expected he would, but those who have paid close attention to both the New York Rangers and the young Finnish forward could clearly tell the steady progress Kakko has made since his difficult rookie season. In an overview of New York Rangers training camp and preseason performances, The Athletic’s Arthur Staple writes that Kakko is now “the unquestioned RW1” on Broadway. (subscription link)
It’s a major opportunity for Kakko, who looks poised to move from a “kid line” next to fellow youngsters Filip Chytil and Alexis Lafrenière. As things stand, Kakko looks slated to begin the season playing right wing on the Rangers’ first-line, next to franchise first-line center Mika Zibanejad and former 50-goal scorer Chris Kreider. With this opportunity, it’s easy to envision a second consecutive season where Kakko sets career-highs in production, as last season he managed a career-best 18 goals and 40 points.
Some other notes from Manhattan:
- Another Ranger who has had an impressive preseason is summer signing Erik Gustafsson. According to Staple, Gustafsson has “seemingly won the sixth defense spot with ease.” 2019 68th overall pick Zac Jones has been Gustafsson’s primary competition for the role, but seeing as Gustafsson scored 42 points last season and has familiarity with new head coach Peter Laviolette, it’s no surprise that Gustafsson beat out Jones. Gustafsson’s assumed victory does cast some doubt over Jones’ long-term future in New York, though, as he is waiver-eligible for the first time. Cap constraints may cause the Rangers to keep veteran Ben Harpur on their opening-night roster over Jones, and since Jones remains a well-regarded prospect who scored 31 points in the AHL last season, he could be a popular name on the waiver wire.
- In net, the Rangers could be staring down a difficult situation behind superstar starter Igor Shesterkin. Veteran netminder Jonathan Quick is one of the defining goalies of the past generation of hockey, but now at 37 years old time has started to catch up to him. Quick struggled to the tune of an .882 save percentage last season, and the athleticism that he relied on to make him one of the NHL’s best goalies in his prime has begun to seriously deteriorate. While there was some hope that highly regarded Rangers goalie guru Benoit Allaire would help Quick rebound, Quick posted a grisly .807 save percentage in the preseason. Staple writes that Quick “should have some options for a couple of starts in the first two months.” But if he fails to improve, the Rangers could quickly be in need of a new backup goalie early in 2023-24.