These 3 young Rangers will be key in a 24 team tournament

When and if the season resumes, there is a growing certainty that it will be a 24 team tournament style playoffs. We know that the Rangers championship aspirations will ride on the sticks and blades of veteran players. Yes, Panarin, Zibanejad, Trouba, and Kreider will need to be lights out good but some these rookies could be just as important.

Kaapo Kakko

If there was ever a player that needed a break, it’s 19 year old Kaapo Kakko. The kid was making a huge transition at 18 from Finland. He also had to learn the defensive game on a smaller ice surface with the best players in the world. His -26 is evidence of that. Whether you like that stat are not, it’s there for a simple view that he was on the ice for too many goals against. Obviously adjusting to NHL played a role but also fatigue.

Last season, Kakko played a combined 98 games between Finnish league play and international contests. Fatigue doesn’t have to be just physical, a lot could be mental and that seemed to be the issue in many games this season for the rookie. 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 S%. 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.

The Rangers will need Kakko to be a force on the third line and 2nd PP unit. If he can come out of the gate strong, he could propel the team for a round or two. That will be a big help, especially if it takes awhile for Panarin and Zibanejad to get going.

Adam Fox

What can you say about Adam Fox that would be anything but complimentary. This rookie out of Harvard has been amazing and worthy of Calder consideration for rookie of the year. His 42 points in 70 games ranks him 7th on the team in scoring and 2nd for defenseman behind Tony DeAngelo’s 53. Very impressive no matter how you want to look at it.

It is difficult to say that he needed a break based on his play. Prior to the pause he had a goal and 6 assists in his last 4 games. However, in his last 2 seasons he played a combined total of 77 games for Harvard and Team USA. Of course, any player not used to the serious physical and mental toll of an NHL season can suffer, especially late when it matters most. Rookie or not, Adam Fox was going to need to be a key contributor in a playoff run. This break may now ensure that.

Igor Shesterkin

The Czar of NY has been everything he was billed to be before coming here. His stats coming out of the KHL were otherworldly. In 133 combined regular season and playoff games, Igor Shesterkin compiled an amazing 88 wins, .933 SV%, and a mind blowing 1.70 GAA with 27 shutouts. What else is worthy to note is that he only averaged a combined total of 37 games in his 3 full KHL seasons. He has already played that same number of games this season between The Wolf Pack and Rangers.

Shesterkin (Getty Images)

A lot has been made about goaltending in the last several years. Especially with the likes of Matt Murray and rookie, Jordan Binnington winning Cups. While of course legendary goalies like Patrick Roy, Martin Brodeur, and Dominik Hasek are integral to winning championships, you will find the likes of Corey Crawford and Jonathan Quick also on hockey’s holy grail. Yes, you need a good goaltender, but more importantly you need one to be hot and for a long stretch.

Igor’s 12 game NHL career is a small sample size, but it proves he can be hot for an extended period of time. Before the pause, the Czar had 10 wins and a sparkling .933 SV% with a solid 2.69 GAA. Maybe the break will hurt him, but maybe it will help against fatigue setting in as well. Regardless, any Cup aspirations in this 24 team tournament will ride on the Russian rookie.

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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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