Rangers’ new lines create harrowing concern amidst injury plague

New York Rangers right wing Blake Wheeler (17) skates against the Calgary Flames during the first period at Scotiabank Saddledome
Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports

The New York Rangers are continuing to struggle through three major injuries on their lineup. Filip Chytil’s upper-body injury has caused the most drama on the Blueshirts, as his absence has led to multiple call-ups and line swaps.

Following an embarrassing defeat to the Minnesota Wild, it was clear that something needed to change in order to keep the momentum going while the Rangers wait for their star players to return from the IR. This morning’s practice lines saw some noticeable changes, but what was seen has fans questioning what head coach Peter Laviolette is trying to accomplish.

Kaapo Kakko has been demoted to the Rangers’ third line

This season, Kaapo Kakko was given the chance to start the season on the Rangers’ first line. It was the first time in his career that he was given a full-time top-six opportunity, and Laviolette was the first coach to make it happen.

Through 11 games played so far, Kakko has only amassed two points while playing with Chris Kreider and Mika Zibanejad on the top line. It’s been a disappointing performance so far, and Laviolette has decided it’s time to try something different.

Per Vince Mercogliano, Kakko was skating with Will Cuylle and Nick Bonino on the third line during this morning’s practice. Going from the first to the third is an incredible demotion, but what was even more shocking was the player replacing Kakko.

Blake Wheeler is now the first-line right winger (Why?)

Kreider and Zibanejad have seemed to find themselves a new linemate in Blake Wheeler this morning. The veteran forward was signed to the Rangers this offseason on a cheap one-year deal, but expectations were still high for Wheeler.

Despite the Blueshirts hoping for elite defensive play as well as solid point production from Wheeler, he has done barely anything for the Rangers so far this season. He has only one point in 11 games played, and that assist came just last game against the Wild. His skating has been atrocious, and he’s contributed very little to the team. But according to Laviolette, that calls for a first-line promotion.

Laviolette explains the Kakko/Wheeler swap

While some sort of change was likely necessary with the injury plague riddling the Rangers’ lineup right now, nobody could have predicted this major change that fans are witnessing right now. But Laviolette has offered some sort of explanation for the swap:

“If you’re not getting the results that you’re looking for from a 5v5 standpoint… you look at what maybe you could do to see if it gives it a different look. More than anything, I just wanted to change the scenery.”

Peter Laviolette via Vince Mercogliano

A change of scenery was certainly needed for Wheeler. He’s an already-established NHL regular who should have already gotten something going by now. But to give up on Kakko just 11 games into his first season as a top-six forward seems a bit extreme. There isn’t much room to have moved him anywhere else in the lineup, but the demotion from their first line back to the bottom six is still frightening to see happen so early on in the year.

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