New York Rangers shake things up, drop Kaapo Kakko to third line

The New York Rangers are going to shake things up after a 5-4 shootout loss to the Minnesota Wild on Saturday. In an effort to find more 5-on-5 scoring, veteran Blake Wheeler is moving up to the top line with Mika Zibanejad and Chris Kreider. Consequently, Kaapo Kakko was dropped to the third line.

“I think [Wheeler] is moving his feet better. This is a guy who puts up points. He put up 60 points last year,” head coach Peter Laviolette explained. “It’s a change of scenery. I think we’re looking at everything; I’m also trying to find a balance inside of the lines.”

Related: Igor Shesterkin day-to-day

Kaapo Kakko drops to the third line

NHL: New York Rangers at Minnesota Wild
Nick Wosika-USA TODAY Sports

The new look Blueshirts will host the Detroit Red Wings on Tuesday night with Barclay Goodrow back in action after the birth of his child. Per multiple reports, Nick Bonino was promoted to third line center, indicating Jonny Brodzinski would be a healthy scratch along with Connor Mackey. It’s expected that Goodrow would center the fourth line.

Of course, the story out of practice was seeing Wheeler on the first line and Kakko with Will Cuylle and Bonino on the third unit. So, what does this mean for Kakko?

“This isn’t to say that we don’t go back with Kaapo either at some point,” Laviolette noted. “I think just to change it up and to give it a different look for a day, for possibly a game, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that. Maybe Kaapo is that guy, too… Maybe it helps Kaapo, too. I think you have to give it a stretch to see what happens. We’ll see.”

Kakko, 22, has only 2 points in 11 games this season while averaging 15:21 per game. The biggest issue with the 2019 second overall pick’s game is his penchant to play on the perimeter. Meanwhile, the 37 year-old Wheeler has just 1 assist through 11 games this season, which makes the move a little mind-boggling.

Let’s minimize the fact that Wheeler is playing fewer minutes per game than Kakko at 11:58 and try to determine what Laviolette could be seeing in making this move.

According to NHL Edge’s player tracking technology, Wheeler is faster at 22.14 mph versus Kakko’s 20.58, which harkens back to Laviolette’s comments about the veteran moving his feet. Additionally, Wheeler has a harder shot, clocking in at 87.04 with Kakko at 81.64.

However, what stands out to me is the fact that Wheeler simply shoots more than Kakko and mostly from high danger areas of the ice. Of his 21 shots on goal, 11 of them are from at or near the net, compared to Kakko’s 8.

While it’s possible that Laviolette may be looking to get Wheeler going with this move, he could also be looking to light a fire under Kakko. We will certainly find out which it is, come tomorrow night.

How the injuries have impacted the lineup

It’s never easy for teams to lose a top performer to injury during a long season, and it’s certainly even worse when injuries affect more than one key player at the same time. Unfortunately for the Rangers, at least for the short term, that’s the situation in which they find themselves.

In a penalty-ridden, largely defensive game in which the Blueshirts edged past the Carolina Hurricanes last Thursday night, it proved costly. Initially, they lost Adam Fox to a lower-body injury, and then Filip Chytil left the game with an upper-body injury. By the next day, the Rangers recalled Jonny Brodzinski, Connor Mackey, and Louis Domingue, indicating that Igor Shesterkin was also banged up and day-to-day.

“The plan doesn’t really change with regard to players moving in and out of the lineup,” Laviolette stated. “It doesn’t come with different messages. Obviously, there are holes that have to be filled with regard to injury. But I’d like to see us play a better game. I don’t know if that has to do with Fox being in there or not.”

Missing Filip Chytil for any length of time may slow down the torrid point accrual pace for Artemi Panarin, though he did score two points Saturday night. But missing Adam Fox impacts the power play and even more concerning — weakens the quality of the Rangers defense in all facets of the game. In particular, the junior pairing of Jones and Schneider has not been a solid element for the Blueshirts, to date.

Ultimately, the Rangers will need to buckle down and stick to the new systems that the coaching staff has implemented. Regardless of who is in the lineup, a good structure can go a long way when dealing with injuries and lineup changes.

Deborah Seymour grew up in New York City and studied in the City University of New York system for... More about Deborah Seymour

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