Rangers must resist urge to place Kaapo Kakko on top line

NHL: New York Rangers at Pittsburgh Penguins
Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY SportsCredit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

With goals in two of his past three games, and three in seven, Kaapo Kakko just might be heating up for the New York Rangers. With that in mind, Peter Laviolette must resist the urge to promote him to the first line once again.

It has been a strange season for the 23-year-old forward, who has 10 goals and 14 points in 48 games. He has dealt with injury, was bounced around the lineup, and was one of their bigger trade chips ahead of the March 8 deadline. Despite all this, Kakko has proven to bring success to the Rangers.

In games with Kakko in the lineup, New York is 34-11-3. Without him, they are 11-9-1.

Multiple times throughout the season, Kakko has been moved between the third and first lines. Time and time again, the Rangers turned to Kakko to try and spark Mika Zibanejad and Chris Kreider, who have struggled 5v5 this season.

After a handful of stints with Kakko on the first line, it has been proven that they simply do not fit.

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Each of Rangers’ four lines clicking after trade deadline

NHL: Florida Panthers at New York Rangers
Wendell Cruz-USA TODAY SportsCredit: Wendell Cruz-USA TODAY Sports

With Kakko excelling in his role on the third line, it is crucial that he remains there. His line with Will Cuylle and new addition Alex Wennberg has been solid for the Blueshirts since the trade deadline. In a 5-2 victory against the New York Islanders on Sunday, Jonny Brodzinski played on the third line with Wennberg and Kakko, and the line was responsible for two goals. Cuylle shifted to the fourth line and scored one of his own.

“I think (Brodzinski) goes up and he brings some speed to the line with Wennberg and Kakko,” Laviolette mentioned. “I thought they were excellent.”

Though Kakko chafes under ice-time restrictions — he played 10:20 in a 4-2 loss to the Winnipeg Jets on Tuesday — sometimes less is more for him, with better production in fewer minutes on the third line.

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Jack Roslovic fitting in on top line for Rangers

NHL: New York Rangers at Tampa Bay Lightning
Kim Klement Neitzel-USA TODAY SportsCredit: Kim Klement Neitzel-USA TODAY Sports

This idea is reinforced further when looking at the impact Jack Roslovic has had playing right wing on the first line since the deadline. He has a goal and three assists in seven games, and has brought speed and grit to the Zibanejad line.

A possible benefit of Roslovic entering the conversation is that Zibanejad is beginning to ramp up production, and not only on the power play. He had goals in two straight games before the Jets loss, and three in his past six. After going without an even-strength goal since before Christmas, he now has two in the past six games. This is a positive sign for the Rangers as the playoffs approach.

Kreider has also been scoring at an impressive rate. He has two goals and five assists in the seven games that Roslovic has played on right wing. Increasing the even-strength production of the first line has been a difficult task for the Rangers this season, but Roslovic is proving that he may have been the missing piece to the puzzle.

While Kakko and Roslovic are about even in terms of production since the trade deadline, the best course of action is to keep the lines as they are. Right now, New York is a team with great depth, and four lines that are playing some great hockey. There is no need to switch things up.

“I thought all of the lines were good, and contributed today,” Laviolette said following the victory over the Islanders.

Four-line contribution is something the Rangers have struggled to find for the majority of the season. Since the trade deadline, they are 5-2-0 and proven that they can run four lines that can produce offense and play solid defense. This is something they will need to keep up if they want to make a deep run in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Kakko is finally beginning to find his role on the Rangers. It might not be what was expected after he was selected with the No. 2 overall pick in the 2019 draft, but his play recently has been showing signs of improvement. His defensive game has really matured, and now he is finding the back of the net. It is crucial that he stays in this role so that he can continue to play at this level.

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

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