Rangers roster would be better suited with Panarin and Kakko on the top line

The New York Rangers have plenty to assess and even more time to figure out what the best mix at the top will be. There is no question that Mika Zibanejad is the clear number one center on this team. There’s even less doubt that Artemi Panarin is the best left wing. Next season, they need to be reunited.

Reconstructing the Rangers top six

Alexis Lafreniere is a game changer even before he’s played a single contest for the Blueshirts. While there will be plenty of pushback about rushing him, there should also be enough of a push to see him play significant minutes early.

The huge question marks are where to place Chris Kreider, Pavel Buchnevich, and Kaapo Kakko.

Obviously throwing the 19 year-old first overall pick on the top line is too much pressure, second line makes more sense. You also don’t want to have two kids playing with Ryan Strome on the second line either. That’s why it’s time to put the shot happy Kakko on the top line with two elite players in Panarin and Zibanejad.

Kakko the shooting machine

rangers roster top line
Quinn must unite Panarin and Kakko (Adam Hunger-USA TODAY Sports)

Since Kakko returned from Finland after the pause, he was a different player. The biggest change was his willingness to shoot more. His two biggest problems this season were holding on to the puck too long and not shooting enough. In 66 games he only took 109 shots for a lowly 1.65 shots per game with a shooting percentage of 9.2%.

To compare and contrast, Pavel Buchnevich took 2.17 shots per game and scored 16 goals with a 10.8 shooting percentage. Kakko needed to shoot more and he did show a willingness to do so late in the season. In his last 8 games before the pause, he took at least 3 shots in 4 games and at least 2 shots in 5 of them.

Then in the playoffs he unloaded in game one against Carolina with 5 shots in his first ever post-season contest. Unfortunately he notched only one more shot in that sweep but did attempt 11 shots in three games. A lot of that had to do with the Canes defense and the Rangers inability to get to the high danger zones.

Ultimately, Kakko showed why he was the 2nd overall pick. If he’s willing to get pucks on net on a line with Panarin and Zibanejad, he could break the 25 goal mark in his sophomore year.

What to do with Kreider and Buchnevich

Chris Kreider is another left wing, but if you want to see Alexis Lafreniere on the second line something has to give. I find it hard to see David Quinn take CK20 and drop him to third line duties for a long stretch. That’s why I can see Quinn play the veteran on right wing with Strome and Lafreniere.

That of course has major ramifications for Pavel Buchnevich who will be relegated to third line duties. It also means Vitali Kravtsov will play the entire season with Traktor in the KHL.

Keeping Kravtsov in Russia makes sense from a cap perspective as well. As many have written, the Rangers performance bonus situation is already bloated due to so many ELC’s on the roster. Adding Vitali, Morgan Barron, and K’Andre Miller to this lineup will make it even harder to manage.

Rangers roster, quick glance and the forward lines next season

Let’s end this article with a quick glance at what the four lines could look like. I’m a visual guy and it always helps me to digest these concepts by seeing the full picture.

Panarin – Zibanejad – Kakko
Lafreniere – Strome – Kreider
Lemieux – Chytil – Buchnevich
Di Guiseppe – Howden – Gauthier

Anthony Scultore has been covering the New York Rangers and the NHL since 2014. His work also appears at... More about Anthony Scultore