Rangers Kaapo Kakko skating on his own, where will he play when he returns?

New York Rangers forward Kaapo Kakko is skating on his own per head coach Gerard Gallant. That will help with his conditioning as the team expects to have him back in early April.

Kakko last played on January 21 against the Carolina Hurricanes. Television cameras caught Kakko wincing in a lot of pain and discomfort at the end of the second period as he was flexing his left arm. He was placed on IR the next day.

According to Gallant, it was an issue he had been dealing with for some time. Recent reports indicated that the upper-body injury concerned his wrist, which for an offensive player certainly will make scoring goals harder.

The Rangers #2 pick overall in the 2019 draft has only 5 tallies this season, and is currently riding a 12 game goal drought.

New York Rangers overloaded at forward

After the recent acquisitions of forwards Andrew Copp, Frank Vatrano, and Tyler Motte the Rangers are suddenly overloaded up front.

Alexis Lafrenière, who was playing on the first line right wing was bumped down to the third line in favor of Vatrano. The move was to get Lafrenière back to his natural left wing position where he is most comfortable, especially defensively.

“I feel like it’s more natural for me coming back into my own zone,” he said after Friday’s win over the Penguins. “It’s things like that where you always a little late (in the d-zone) when you aren’t used to it.”

The additions have already bumped Ryan Reaves and Greg McKegg out of the lineup, and things will get harder for them to get back in once Kakko and Kevin Rooney return from IR. Rooney is also skating on his own.

“Obviously some guys are gonna be disappointed, they’re not playing as much, that’s all part of it,” Gallant said via the NY Post. “It’s about attitude. Take the right attitude, do what you can do. If you’re not playing, go work hard and be ready for when you do play. It’s not easy, but we’re all trying to win.”

The two most likely candidates to be scratched upon their return are Jonny Brodzinski and Dryden Hunt, both were on the fourth line on Friday.

Where will the Rangers play Kaapo Kakko?

kaapo kakko
May 3, 2021; New York, New York, USA; Kaapo Kakko #24 of the New York Rangers celebrates his goal at 4:35 of the second period against the Washington Capitals at Madison Square Garden. Mandatory Credit: Bruce Bennett/POOL PHOTOS-USA TODAY Sports

“It’s a positive for some players and a negative for others,” Gallant explained. “You do the best you can. We just had a little chat (with the players) to stay positive. We’re trying to do this to win hockey games. Have patience. There’s a lot of people on the ice but we’re trying to win hockey games.”

So with the Rangers suddenly loaded with quality options, where does Kakko end up playing when he’s healthy?

Let’s start with the obvious spot and that’s back on the first line. Kakko should without question get a chance to reunite with Mika Zibanejad and Chris Kreider.

That move would drop Frankie Vatrano to either the third line right wing, or maybe down to the fourth. If it’s the former option, Barclay Goodrow would likely be on a fourth line with Tyler Motte and Kevin Rooney. All three can play center, which is why I think Goodrow stays put with Filip Chytil and Lafrenière.

Gerard Gallant likes to have two guys that can take draws out there, just in case one of them kicks out of the circle. That’s the case on each line but the first. Copp can jump in for Strome, Goodrow for Chytil, and Motte for whomever the fourth line pivot is.

However, if Kakko needs to be eased back in or struggles on the first line the only other option is to place him on the third and reunite the kids line. Breaking up a formidable second line with Panarin, Strome, and Copp makes little sense at this time.

Plus a youthful energetic trio can be something Gallant could rely on to provide a spark of energy down the stretch.

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