Rangers should embrace influx of talented youth
When the Rangers won the Alexis Lafreniere draft lottery a whole new world of options became available to them. The kid is going to be special, even more than we expect Kaapo Kakko to be. He should already be penciled into the third line left wing slot behind Artemi Panarin and Chris Kreider.
Alexis Lafreniere on the top line and embrace the youth
Jeff Gorton hasn’t selected Lafreniere yet, but all signs point to him doing so. When they do, they need to treat him exactly like they did Kaapo Kakko. He should be immediately injected into the lineup, however I would almost behoove David Quinn to try him with Mika Zibanejad on the top line.
The idea behind Lafreniere with Mika is to help Filip Chytil develop into a better center with a veteran like Kreider on his flank. It would also help Vitali Kravtsov who is a right wing, to play with CK20 should he be called back from the KHL.
Of course, Chytil is a special case who has struggled at center. He will be pressed in camp by Brett Howden for that 3C spot, but also Cornell standout, Morgan Barron.
Finally, Kaapo Kakko can no longer languish on the 3rd line. As they move on from Jesper Fast they need to let the Finnish Force play on the first or second line. The kid is the future, and the future is now.
Give the kids a chance on defense
On defense, the problems are harder to solve because there is no way of knowing if K’Andre Miller is ready to play significant minutes in the NHL. So moving Marc Staal is not likely to happen. That doesn’t mean the Rangers shouldn’t attempt to give Miller a long look.
The 20 year-old first round pick, 22nd overall in 2018 is a blend of skill, speed, and power. K’Andre Miller is what every team dreams of having on their blue-line in this decade.
What everyone saw at the MSG Training Facility in preparation for the playoffs, is that he belonged. Tony DeAngelo said as much on an episode of the “Watch Your Tone” podcast. The kid didn’t look out of place playing with the big boys and his skating opened eyes of his future teammates as well.
When it comes to Brendan Smith, it is time for Libor Hajek to take his spot on the third pair. The now 22 year-old made quite an impression during the 2018-19 season where he played 5 games and scored a great goal before having his season end early due to a separated shoulder.
Coming into this past campaign, Libor made the team out of camp and was partnered on left defense with Adam Fox. The two rookies had some puck management issues and were separated with Hajek finding himself playing mostly with Jacob Trouba.
Eventually he was sent down, but made it as the 7th defenseman for these past playoffs. The Rangers need to give him a legit chance to show what he can do before opting to trade him.