Rangers: Where should Kaapo Kakko play when he returns from injury?

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May 9, 2022; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA; New York Rangers right wing Kaapo Kakko (24) skates with the puck against the Pittsburgh Penguins during the third period in game four of the first round of the 2022 Stanley Cup Playoffs at PPG Paints Arena. The Penguins won 7-2. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Yesterday, New York Rangers HC Peter Laviolette announced that Kaapo Kakko skated with the team with almost zero restrictions and that the previously injured winger would become a full participant in practice relatively soon. While his return is imminent, there lies a very important question — where should Kakko play once he is finally healthy?

Kakko could get another shot on the Rangers’ first-line

To begin the year, Kakko started on the Rangers’ first line with Chris Kreider and Mika Zibanejad. A major breakout campaign was expected from the former second-overall pick, but that didn’t seem to be the case. The entire first line as a whole was disappointing, and Kakko was not driving any offensive production. This experiment was quickly deemed a failure as Kakko was demoted down into the Rangers’ bottom six.

Now that close to two months have gone by since Kakko’s injury, the Rangers could look to give him another shot on the first line. Both Kreider and Zibanejad have improved drastically which would in turn help Kakko, and Blake Wheeler has proven to not be a solid fit on the first-line right wing either. It may seem like a large jump to move Kakko straight from the LTIR to the first line, but there aren’t many other options out there.

The Rangers could continue utilizing Kakko as a defensive depth piece

Before he was injured, the one area of Kakko’s game that excelled was his defensive abilities. He was placed on the third line with Will Cuylle and Nick Bonino, and the trio became a dominant force both defensively and physically.

If the first line isn’t going to work out for Kakko, which is the likeliest outcome, the only other reasonable scenario is that the Rangers place him back on the third. There is a current need for improved defense on the Blueshirts, and having Kakko back on this defensive line could be the spark to bring that change.