What are the New York Rangers lineup options when Kaapo Kakko returns?
It’s difficult to project what Brennan Othmann can provide the New York Rangers after just two games at the NHL level. But if we let our imaginations wander a bit, Othmann’s addition plus the impending return of winger Kaapo Kakko could give the Rangers a boost and balance they’ve lacked over the last six weeks despite still owning the best record in the NHL.
“It was nice to see Kaapo out there,” coach Peter Laviolette stated last week. “He looks good and he’s moving well. It’s all positive stuff.”
GM Chris Drury addressed the bottom-six this summer after a disappointing playoff against the Devils last spring. But due to injuries, some players have been asked to do more than they were probably expected to do in September.
And while there’s no timetable on if/when we’ll see Filip Chytil back on the ice, the return of Kakko and the recall of Othmann gives coach Peter Laviolette reinforcements that should balance out the attack and take pressure off not only the power play, but the Vincent Trocheck line, which has been carrying the water at even strength.
New York Rangers lineup options with Kaapo Kakko
Othmann is a natural left winger, but Laviolette already experimented with him on the right side of Mika Zibanejad and Chris Kreider Thursday, though not so much Saturday in Montreal. The 21-year-old didn’t look out of place, albeit in a very small sample size.
The previous two seasons, Drury forfeited assets to find a fit on the right side of Zibanejad and Kreider, first in 2022 for Frank Vatrano and then a year later with Vlad Tarasenko. Those two scoring wingers meshed well on that top line.
Othmann has the pedigree to be a similar fit with those two. He had a 50-goal season in junior and had nine in his first 28 games in the American Hockey League. His five shots on goal against Chicago showed he’s not afraid to put the puck on net, even with Game 1 jitters.
Slotting Othmann into that role allows Blake Wheeler to move into the bottom-six role, and possibly even to the fourth line when Kakko returns, which appears to be in as soon as a week’s time.
Laviolette could also reunite Kakko with Zibanejad and Kreider, where he started the season but ultimately didn’t produce enough offensively to keep the spot despite strong underlying numbers.
In 131:43 with Kakko, Zibanejad was 51.64 CF%, versus 47.97 CF% without him in 102:25. Kreider, meanwhile, was 52.29 CF% with No. 24, and 48.09 CF% without him.
If Kakko does get the top-line assignment, Wheeler could beef up the fourth line with Barclay Goodrow and Jimmy Vesey, while Othmann slots in with Nick Bonino and Will Cuylle.
There’s still of course the possibly — even likelihood — of a trade coming at the deadline. If Chytil is gone for the year, the focus — and his cap space — could shift to adding a third-line center.
If that’s the route, Goodrow could be the odd-man out, as he and Bonino bring a similar skill set, with Bonino’s cap hit being a fraction of Goodrow’s. There’s the issue of Goodrow’s partial no-trade, but it’s just that: partial.
There’s an argument that all of this is putting the cart before the horse. It’s been just one game for Othmann and this team has struggled to stay healthy, meaning an injury could derail everything.
But if Othmann — or Kakko — can fil that top-line role it could alter Drury’s approach to the deadline and make the team a better and harder team to play against come April.