Kaapo Kakko and Alexis Lafrenière have opportunity to blossom this season

Kaapo Kakko and Alexis Lafrenière have been under the spotlight as young New York Rangers for the last few seasons. The second overall pick in 2019 and first overall pick in 2020 respectively, have always had high expectations. Last season was regarded as potentially pivotal for both, and while they each showed improvement, this season presents them with the opportunity to get to the next level.

With training camp scheduled to open on September 21, that chance they’ve both been waiting for is on the horizon.

Offseason elevates Kaapo Kakko and Alexis Lafrenière

Alexis Lafreniere
May 22, 2022; New York, New York, USA; New York Rangers left wing Alexis Lafreniere (13) awaits a face-off against the Carolina Hurricanes during the second period in game three of the second round of the 2022 Stanley Cup Playoffs at Madison Square Garden. Mandatory Credit: Danny Wild-USA TODAY Sports

The Rangers acquired Frank Vatrano and Andrew Copp in trade deadline deals last season. Both were valuable assets for the Rangers for the remaining regular season and into the playoffs. However, the Rangers chose not to re-sign them in the offseason.

Vatrano and Copp spent time on the first and second lines mostly in place of Lafrenière and Kaako. Now that they won’t be occupying those spots, the kids have the chance to prove that they belong in the top six on a nightly basis.

While they did play in these spots at various times last year, they’re at the point where these need to be their permanent places on the roster. Continuity of linemates and amount of ice time per night will only help them flourish.

Of the Rangers’ offseason additions, the only one guaranteed a top six spot is Vincent Trocheck. However, that does not affect Kakko and Lafrenière since Trocheck is a center. He was brought in to take Ryan Strome’s place on the second line.

Kakko and Lafrenière making progress

kaapo kakko
Apr 9, 2022; New York, New York, USA; New York Rangers right wing Kaapo Kakko (24) controls the puck against Ottawa Senators defenseman Erik Brannstrom (26) during the second period at Madison Square Garden. Mandatory Credit: Tom Horak-USA TODAY Sports

With Kakko going into his fourth NHL season and Lafrenière going into his third, it is time for them start producing.

They’re skill players who have been adjusting to the pace and play of the NHL for the past few seasons. Both began to look significantly more comfortable last year. Kakko only played 43 games missing much of the remaining time due to injury. However, he had 18 points through those 43 games, putting him on pace to surpass his career high of 23 had he not been out. This career high was recorded in his rookie season through 66 games.

Lafrenière recorded 31 points in 79 games last season moving up and down the lineup. If he is able to secure a spot in the top six and play with the same linemates consistently, it will help him produce more. Chemistry does matter for scoring.

Lafrenière also demonstrated his offensive skill and exceptional vision on ice last season in the playoffs with a number of heads-up plays. These are the exact reasons he was drafted first overall. This is the year for him to translate these skills into more points.

The Rangers need more contributions from these young players

The hockey world was surprised by the Rangers’ deep playoff run last year, and now they need to prove it was not a fluke. The Rangers have been out of rebuild mode and ready to compete, but they weren’t necessarily expected to contend for the Cup.

Last year, they had players like Vatrano, Copp, and Strome for their playoff run. Now that they’re gone, others will have to step up.

This is the year for Kakko and Lafrenière. The pressure is on for the Rangers, and they need their top picks to thrive.

Note: All stats come from hockeyreference.com

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