Alexis Lafreniere and Kaapo Kakko enjoying life at the top

Alexis Lafreniere and Kaapo Kakko are enjoying life on the New York Rangers top line with Mika Zibanejad.

At least for now.

Since Gerard Gallant made the switch during the second period of the comeback win against the Blues on Monday the trio has clicked.

Lafreniere, 21, has two goals (both assisted by Zibanejad) and an assist in that time span which includes a game-winner. Kakko, 21, scored a goal and both players are a +4.

“They’ve been good,” Gallant said. “I’m real happy with the line and hopefully they can keep going.”

Alexis Lafreniere and Kaapo Kakko energized

Alexis Lafreniere Kaapo Kakko
Dec 7, 2022; Las Vegas, Nevada, USA; New York Rangers right wing Kaapo Kakko (24) celebrates with team mates after scoring a goal against the Vegas Golden Knights during the first period at T-Mobile Arena. Mandatory Credit: Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports

Truthfully, no one knows how long this will last considering Gallant’s penchant this season to tinker with the lines at the first sign of trouble. However, all things look to be going in the right direction as long as the kids produce.

“They played great, worked hard, and did the little things,” Zibanejad said in Vegas. “Both of them got rewarded and it was nice to see.”

The biggest difference appears to be how engaged Lafreniere and Kakko are with Zibanejad on the first line. It was a question directly asked to the head coach after the 5-1 win on Wednesday night in Vegas.

“Sure. I don’t know why they wouldn’t be,” Gallant said with a smile. “A young kid playing with a top center like that… they played well.”

Kaapo Kakko has matured

Kaapo Kakko New York Rangers
Dec 7, 2022; Las Vegas, Nevada, USA; New York Rangers right wing Kaapo Kakko (24) celebrates after scoring a goal against the Vegas Golden Knights during the first period at T-Mobile Arena. Mandatory Credit: Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports

This summer, Kakko signed a two-year deal with an AAV of $2.1 million. Since being drafted second overall in 2019, the organization has been waiting for him to break out as he’s now in his fourth NHL season amassing 58 points in 157 games.

After last night’s action, Kakko only has nine points (5G – 4A) in 28 games but should probably have a lot more considering he’s second on the team in 5v5 Expected GoalsFor at 5.66 (per Natural Stat Trick).

It’s something his new center recognizes.

“Talking about it the last couple of days, [Kakko] keeps doing the right things and putting himself in a spot where he can score and he did it tonight,” Zibanejad noted.

So far in 2022-23, I’ve noticed Kakko’s maturity and that he looks more confident than ever before with the puck. He’s no longer in awe of who he’s playing with or against and it’s resulting in more decisive play on the ice.

“If feels good,” Kakko said after his goal in Vegas. “I saw [Miller] alone on the blue line and I just tried to get to the net and touch the puck.”

Alexis Lafreniere just needs more minutes

When it comes to the Blueshirts first ever #1 overall pick during the modern draft era, more minutes in crucial times suits him just fine.

Alexis Lafreniere, has been clutch in the past two games since being bumped up and getting a few more key minutes. He made the play to set up K’Andre Miller to tie the game on Monday against the Blues before tipping in the game-winner soon after. And last night, he dashed any hopes of a Vegas comeback with a big goal to increase the lead by three in the final frame.

“It felt good (to contribute),” Lafreniere said. “I’ll play with anyone on any line. We’re a really deep team, so we have good players on every line.”

While Lafreniere’s response is diplomatic, the former captain of the Rimouski Oceanic thrives in big game situations and needs to continue to receive more valuable minutes going forward.

This season, he has five goals and 13 points in 28 games. For his career, playing mostly third line minutes, Lafreniere already has nine career game winning goals. Pretty incredible when you realize he’s only scored 36 career goals to date.

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