New York Rangers are ignoring future as Alexis Lafreniere, Kaapo Kakko, and Filip Chytil’s ice time drop

By Frank Curto
alexis lafreniere kaapo kakko
Mar 19, 2021; Washington, District of Columbia, USA; Hartford Wolf Pack and acting New York Rangers head coach Kris Knoblauch (L) looks on from behind the bench against the New York Rangers in the second period at Capital One Arena. Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

The New York Rangers are finding the back of the net more frequently in recent games. However, the team has seen a dramatic drop in ice time for the future stars of the franchise. It is a trend that can’t continue.

An adversity filled season on Broadway

Drama and adversity have been common words used when talking about the New York Rangers hockey team this season.

The Blueshirts have been able to overcome so much in a short period of time. Key injuries, Covid-19 protocols, player slumps, the Anthony DeAngelo situation, and most recently the announcement that the entire coaching staff missing games due to COVID protocols.

Unfortunately, there’s been a new issue that has been occurring over the last few games that became quite noticeable. Should someone take the time to look at the NHL stats from last Saturday night’s contest, a look at the TOI section revealed a problem in the making for the team’s future stars.

The “Kid” line, Alexis Lafrenière, Filip Chytil, and Kaapo Kakko didn’t have much ice time as a unit on Friday or Saturday night. The line, which has shown promise at times, but has only managed three points in their last eight games combined.

Lafrenière had 14 shifts totaling 7:53 of ice time on Saturday – a season low. He was only on the ice for three shifts in the third period equating to 1:41 minutes of ice time for this year’s number one overall pick in the NHL Draft. Chytil saw 15 shifts, with 9:57 minutes of ice time. His third-period numbers stood at five shifts, 2:47 time on the ice.

Kakko had the most playing time of the trio. He was on the ice for 12 shifts accumulating 12:42 minutes of ice tine which included eight shifts with 4:22 minutes on the ice in the third period.

Losing Alexis Lafrenière on the bench

alexis lafreniere
Feb 8, 2021; New York, NY, USA; Alexis Lafreniere #13 of the New York Rangers sits on the bench prior to warm-ups before the game against the New York Islanders at Madison Square Garden on February 08, 2021 in New York City. Mandatory Credit: Bruce Bennett/Pool Photo-USA TODAY Sports

As a reminder, the Rangers entered the third period of their 3-1 win over the Capitals leading 1-0. Eighteen of the Rangers’ 30 games this season have been decided by two or fewer goals, and 13 of those games have been decided by one goal. The team blew a late lead in Friday night’s loss to the Caps which saw Alex Ovechkin score two times with under seven minutes remaining in that game.

“It’s mismanagement of the bench and not realizing the situation,” Knoblauch admitted. “I did want to keep him away from their top line – but other than that I wish I would’ve played him more. There was a lot of D-zone face-offs for us and it was unfortunate that he missed out on some shifts.”

Of course, Knoblauch is just holding down the fort until David Quinn and his staff can return to their duties. Yet it is mind-boggling how the acting coach, or his assistants, could lose track of how the top pick in this year’s draft is performing throughout a game. The three players already have an intriguing path to be on this team and have shown they can skate with the best in the NHL.

Kakko playing well just not scoring

Kakko certainly has played the best hockey of his young career, and the coaching staff was able to get him over 12 minutes of ice time. So one needs to ask if Kakko was seen by the staff, how were Lafrenière and Chytil overlooked?

Chytil was 50% on face-offs Saturday night going 4-8 which included two defensive zone draws where he was 1 out of 2.

The coaching staff needs to get the young line more ice time, more confidence when the game is close. The playoffs are not that far off, but regardless of the team seeing the postseason this year, the development of these three players is crucial to the success of the team for years to come.

The experience they can gain, playing in what could be the toughest division in the NHL, is invaluable. Every game has the feel of the playoffs, every period is crucial and every shift they get on the ice proves to be a valuable learning tool to a potentially great career.

Let’s all hope the acting coach and the returning coach can keep track of where the players not named Artemi Panarin, Ryan Strome, Chris Kreider, and Mika Zibanejad are throughout a game.

This team can afford to lose anymore valuable minutes for the young superstars of tomorrow.

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