Kaapo Kakko has solid performance in return from injury

NHL: Washington Capitals at New York Rangers
Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

In Sunday’s 2-1 win over the Washington Capitals, New York Rangers forward Kaapo Kakko made his return to the line-up after missing 21 games with a lower body injury. It was a welcome addition back to the forward group for New York. While he only had 3 points prior to his injury, his defensive play was severely missed since he fell to injury on November 27th.

He picked up right where he left off, and the rest of the Rangers seemed to follow suit. New York picked up a very defensive win in their 2-1 triumph over Washington. In the contest, Kakko registered two shots on goal and looked like he never missed a beat.

“It’s been a long time,” Kakko explained. “A lot of recovery, working out also. Never fun, but good to be back.

Related: Rangers’ biggest surprises in 1st half of 2023-24 season

Kaapo Kakko looks good in first game back

NHL: Washington Capitals at New York Rangers
Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

It certainly was good for the Rangers to have Kakko back. While it is hard to determine if one player has this much of a direct correlation, the numbers with and without Kakko are worth noting. With Kakko in the lineup, the Rangers hold a record of 16-3-1. Without him and including the game he was injured, they are 11-10-1.

Having to stand by and watch as the Rangers entered a rough patch was difficult for the 22-year-old forward. “It wasn’t fun just watching the games when the guys are not winning, but that’s hockey. Good win today,” mentioned Kakko.

In the win, Kakko had several scoring chances as he is still looking to ignite his offensive game. Both he and the Rangers are in need of more scoring throughout the line-up and especially at even strength. Ideally for New York, Kakko can finally break out and solidify the first line right-wing position.

“I think it was good. A couple of good chances today,” Kakko recalled. “Like I said, I’ve been skating by myself a lot, for the last month. I had some time to work on those things. Maybe next game I can score.”

Related: How the 2023-24 Rangers rank at the midway point of season

It would be great for Kakko to find his scoring touch, or at the very least, help out his linemates Mika Zibanejad and Chris Kreider. The mainstay first line left wing and center have been streaky, and still struggle to score consistently at even strength. Kakko knows they are high caliber players and is hoping that the three of them can finally begin to perform like New York’s top line.

“I woke up this morning and saw the lines, so I knew it was going to be more ice time like before I got hurt so that was a good thing. I was happy about that,” said Kakko. “Hopefully, next game I can keep playing with those guys and get better also. They are great players, so we have to be better.”

Peter Laviolette was also pleased with Kakko’s return to action.

“I thought he had really positive minutes,” Laviolette mentioned. “I just talked with him and he felt good. I thought he was a contributor offensively. He had some chances to score and that’s what you want to see, the opportunity and the chances. Those will eventually drop for him, so he did create out there. I thought he was good.”

Laviolette had no problem putting Kakko right back on the first line. While Blake Wheeler had a solid run of games alongside Zibanejad and Kreider, it was definitely time to get Kakko back into that role. Hopefully, having Wheeler in the bottom-six can spark their offensive production as well.

“(Kakko) started (on the first line) and the line actually had some decent numbers,” said Laviolette. “They were producing opportunity, and what was missing was the result. We ended up changing it and going in some different directions, and then we lost (Kakko). It’s nice to have him back and give him an opportunity and I thought for his first showing back he played a strong game.”

Hopefully, for both Kakko and the Rangers, he can continue this strong play. If those numbers hold true with Kakko in the line-up, he may be just what the Rangers need in order to pull them out of this recent slump. It was a good starting point getting the win over Washington on Sunday. Kakko and the Rangers will look to build on it as they take on the red-hot Seattle Kraken on Tuesday.

Dane Walsh is a life-long fan of the New York Rangers. Growing up in the tri-state area, Dane has... More about Dane Walsh