Rangers coach still ‘confident’ in top line amid Kyle Okposo trade rumor

NHL: Montreal Canadiens at New York Rangers
Wendell Cruz-USA TODAY SportsCredit: Wendell Cruz-USA TODAY Sports

Peter Laviolette is not about to give up on Mika Zibanejad and Chris Kreider finding their mojo again this season for the New York Rangers. That’s even though their 5-on-5 play has fallen short of expectations and they continue to try and find chemistry with a litany of right wings.

“I think when you talk to Mika and his line, I think there’s a want to do more,” Laviolette explained following practice Sunday. “So, those are the things we work on. We look at video. We talk. We try to come up with a gameplan. 

“Talking about great players, I’m confident they’ll find their way.”

The Rangers have hoped all season that Zibanejad and Kreider would eventually get going 5v5, perhaps after finding the right fit on right wing. Kaapo Kakko is back on their right flank now, after Jimmy Vesey wasn’t the right fit and Blake Wheeler went down with a season-ending lower-body injury.

Though Kreider has 30 goals and 56 points, and Zibanejad has 19 goals and 54 points, much of their damage has been done on special teams. Which would be great, if their 5v5 play was better.

In 10:31 of 5v5 time together Saturday in a 4-3 shootout loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs, the line of Zibanejad, Kreider and Kakko were outchanced 15-9 per Natural Stat Trick and their expected goals for was 0.22 and expected goals against was a whopping 1.45. They were not, however, on ice together for any goals-against.

Still, this is the latest example of a season-long issue. 

So, has Laviolette given thought to breaking up Zibanejad and Kreider, or perhaps having them play more regularly with Artemi Panarin as their right wing?

“We always talk about things. We always think about things when we’re back there discussing the lineup,” Laviolette said. “Right now, again, there has been chemistry with them in the past and the [Vincent] Trocheck line (with Panarin and Alexis Lafreniere) has been a force all year, so I believe we have the right people together.”

Related: Updated Rangers trade board 1 week before March 8 deadline

Rangers linked to Kyle Okposo in latest trade rumor

NHL: Buffalo Sabres at New York Rangers
Danny Wild-USA TODAY SportsCredit: Danny Wild-USA TODAY Sports

With less than a week to go before the NHL trade deadline March 8, the Rangers are seeking an answer at right wing for the Zibanejad line. A reunion with current Anaheim Ducks All-Star Frank Vatrano has long been rumored. Jordan Eberle and Anthony Duclair are also names that have been mentioned to fill the void.

And this weekend, Elliotte Friedman suggested on his “32 Thoughts” podcast that Kyle Okposo could be a player of interest to the Rangers.

The Buffalo Sabres captain is 35 years old and an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season with a manageable salary cap hit of $2.5 million. He’s a respected veteran who’s scored 12 goals this season in 58 games and had 21 goals just two seasons ago.

However, he’s averaging just 13:32 in ice time per game this season and has a stated preference of remaining with the Sabres. At this stage of his career, Okposo would appear to be more of a bottom-six addition for a championship contender like the Rangers as opposed to a top-line addition alongside Zibanejad and Kreider.

But if you’re Rangers general manager Chris Drury, it’s your job to turn over every stone and consider all options.

Especially when trying to jumpstart Zibanejad and Kreider at 5v5.

Jim Cerny is Executive Editor at Forever Blueshirts and Managing Editor at Sportsnaut, with more than 30 years of... More about Jim Cerny

Mentioned in this article:

More About: