Rangers vs Hurricanes: It’s time to put Kaapo Kakko on a line with Artemi Panarin

Artemi Panarin’s stat line from yesterday’s game read one assist with four shots on goal. Compared to other Rangers forwards in the lineup, he was statistically the team’s second best player to Mika Zibanejad, who had a goal and an assist in yesterday’s contest.

This is where numbers alone can be a bit deceiving. By all accounts from those who watched the game, Panarin struggled. The truth is, he did. The Rangers power play which relies heavily on him to move the puck and create time and space for Zibanejad and Tony DeAngelo to fire off shots went 0-7. It is what cost the team game one.

Artemi Panarin must lead the Rangers in game two

The Carolina Hurricanes had a game plan, and that was to attack Panarin and give him no time to with the puck. Normally, Artemi can dangle the puck on his stick as if it were on a string and frustrate multiple defenders to find the open man. However, he hasn’t played meaningful hockey in four months and lost the puck more often than not due to rust.

Early in the game, Panarin’s line lost Jesper Fast due to injury and Ryan Strome to a fight. This prompted David Quinn to move Panarin to the top line at times, which wasn’t really effective.

If the Rangers want to win game two, they need to leave the KZB first line alone. However, and more importantly, they need Panarin to lead the offensive charge on a second line, and Ryan Strome isn’t enough to take pressure off Panarin to do so.

kaapo kakko
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Kaapo Kakko must be promoted to the second line

As it is written in the good book, “and a child shall lead them,” now is the time to unleash Kaapo Kakko on the Carolina Hurricanes. Since his return from Finland after the pause, he has been a different player. The biggest difference is 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 needs 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.

In yesterday’s game against Carolina, Kakko let loose a game high 5 shots on goal. Coupled with his 4 shots against the Islanders in exhibition, the kid is no longer gun shy. With Jesper Fast likely out for at least game two after looking very wobbly from Brady Skjei’s hit, it is time for Kakko to take his rightful place in the top six.

If the Hurricanes are going to double team Panarin, Ryan Strome can work with Kakko to torment Petr Mrazek who simply put, was not tested enough yesterday.

The time is now. Let the Finnisher go to work.

Note: The Finisher is what the Rangers PR department has dubbed Kakko. It’s catchy.

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

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