Rangers ‘taking calls’ on Kaapo Kakko ahead of NHL trade deadline: report

NHL: Washington Capitals at New York Rangers
Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

The New York Rangers waited most of the first half of the season to get Kaapo Kakko back in the lineup after the forward sustained a lower-body injury. But according to TSN’s Darren Dreger, now that Kakko is healthy, his time in New York could be coming to a close.

During a segment of “Insider Trading” on Tuesday, Dreger said, “Multiple sources have said that [Rangers general manager Chris] Drury is taking calls on Kakko.”

Related: Rangers eyeing center Adam Henrique ahead of trade deadline

Rangers ‘taking calls’ on Kappo Kakko, could trade forward ahead of deadline

NHL: Washington Capitals at New York Rangers
Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

It would appear the Rangers are not shopping the 22-year-old ahead of the NHL trade deadline on March 8. But the Blueshirts could be open to trading Kakko as part of a big deal that could bring back a top-six right wing or middle-six center, or both.

“Kaapo Kakko is perhaps an asset that Chris Drury … considers using as trade bait,” Dreger said. “New York has cap space and the assets like Kakko to acquire a significant piece.”

The Rangers gained salary cap relief of $4.4375 million when Filip Chytil was placed on long-term injured reserve Sunday. Chytil, who’d been out since sustaining an upper-body injury Nov. 2, had just returned to practice with the Rangers last week before he had a setback related to the initial injury at the morning skate Friday. Chytil is out for the rest of the season.

Kakko missed 21 games after he was injured Nov. 27 against the Buffalo Sabres. He returned to play right wing on the top line with Mika Zibanejad and Chris Kreider two weeks ago in a win against the Washington Capitals.

But Kakko has bounced around the lineup since, though he’s scored three goals in eight games, including in consecutive games before the All-Star break.

In his fifth season since being selected with the No. 2 overall pick in the 2019 NHL Draft, Kakko hasn’t quite met the high expectations placed on him. He’s scored more than 10 goals once in his career, when he seemed to have turned the corner with an NHL career-high 18 goals and 40 points playing all 82 games last season.

Despite that solid production and reliable two-way play, the Rangers could consider trading Kakko in order to land a more accomplished right wing to play on the top line. The Rangers have struggled over the years to find the right fit alongside Zibanejad and Kreider, with Mats Zuccarello, Pavel Buchnevich, Alexis Lafreniere, Vladimir Tarasenko, Patrick Kane, Blake Wheeler and Kakko among those given an opportunity.

Perhaps the best fit was Frank Vatrano, who skated with the pair two seasons ago after being acquired from the Florida Panthers ahead of the trade deadline. That trio played a big role in helping the Rangers reach the Eastern Conference Final, when they lost in six games to the Tampa Bay Lightning.

Vatrano could be on the trade block, if the Rangers are interested. He’s an NHL All-Star with 21 goals this season for the Anaheim Ducks, who are mired at the bottom of the League’s standings.

Another reason why Drury and the Rangers might be willing to listen to offers on Kakko is that he’s a restricted free agent at the end of the season and likely looking at a bump into the $4 million range on his next deal, similar to what Chytil signed for last summer.

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