Kaapo Kakko’s latest injury may be a devastating one for his Rangers’ future

There’s no doubt that even before Kaapo Kakko fell awkwardly into the boards in a loss to the Buffalo Sabres last Monday, that his future with the New York Rangers was bordering on the uncertain.

Before being placed on LTIR with a lower-body injury, Kakko was struggling mightily with just 2 goals and 3 points in 20 games. His offensive play was so ineffective that he was demoted off a formidable line with Chris Kreider and Mika Zibanejad in favor of 37 year-old veteran Blake Wheeler to the team’s third line.

Kakko is also no stranger to being hurt as he missed 39 games in the 2021-22 campaign due to a wrist injury. That’s not to imply he’s injury-prone, especially considering he played all 82 games last season. Although for a young player, missing significant time will impact development and now this latest stint on the injured list could prove very costly.

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Kaapo Kakko Injury

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On the latest episode of the Forever Blueshirts Show, Senior Writer for NHL.com and Rangers reporter Dan Rosen weighed in on Kakko’s injury.

“It’s a debilitating injury for him personally, professionally, and for the team,” he said. “It’s a tough spot because he’s not been off to a good start. He hasn’t performed the way he wants to in a contract year and now we don’t know how long he’s going to be out.”

Going on LTIR means Kakko must miss at least 10 games and 24 days, making the December 22nd contest against the Edmonton Oilers at home the earliest he can return. However, initial reporting indicated he’d be out longer than that.

While Kakko is expected to be back at some point this season, the fact that this is also a contract year for the former second overall pick in the 2019 NHL Draft is devastating. Unless he can return and explode on the scoresheet, Kakko may be facing a difficult summer.

“The Rangers are going to go on without him,” Rosen continued. “If they go on to play the way they’ve been playing, will they now look at him as expendable? Or will they look at his ability and talent coming off an injury to get him cheap on his next deal? Those are the things to factor in.”

The 22 year-old is on the last year of a two-year bridge contract with an AAV of $2.1M before becoming a restricted free agent with salary arbitration rights in July. At best, the Rangers may offer him the exact same deal if he’s lucky. Of course, being such a high draft pick, Kakko may be looking for more, leading to a difficult summer of negotiations. The biggest issue for him is that, based on his production and injury history, it’s highly unlikely anyone will plan an offer sheet. Basically, Kakko has no leverage and may be forced into a one-year show me deal.

That being said, the Rangers are also going to need to make room for Brennan Othmann next season and other prospects like Adam Sykora and Gabe Perreault in the not-to-distant future.

It’s really unfortunate for Kakko, who prior to the season starting, looked like he was on the verge of being a mainstay in the team’s top-six. However, this injury compounded by his poor start is putting that all into question.

Offensive issues aside, Kakko has been excellent defensively and could be a staple on the Rangers third-line chipping in the occasional goal.

“He may never live up to expectations some people have for him,” former Rangers GM Neil Smith said of Kakko. “Sometimes what you project in a player, when he gets into the league just doesn’t pan out. I’m not saying he’s a bust, but I’m also not saying you shouldn’t worry about him. Perhaps you are not going to get second overall statistics from him in his career.”

Can the Rangers and Kakko live with that going forward? That remains to be seen, but in the end it will all be up to Kakko when he eventually returns to show everyone otherwise.

Anthony Scultore is the founder of Forever Blueshirts and has been covering the New York Rangers and the NHL... More about Anthony Scultore