With the 2023-24 season officially underway, the New York Rangers look vastly different from last year’s disappointing team. Although many of the stars remain as the Blueshirts’ top players, there are some new acquisitions and some returning players have found themselves new roles.
One of the biggest changes is the presence of the “kids” on the top two lines. Starting off the season, Kaapo Kakko has earned himself a first-line role, while Filip Chytil and Alexis Lafreniere are slotted on the Rangers’ second line.
Each kid is at a different stage in their career and possesses different skills and abilities. With new opportunities for every member of the kid line, the question remains, who will perform the best this year?
Lafreniere’s main objective is to light any sort of spark in his offensive production
Lafreniere has been the most disappointing of the kids. He was drafted first overall in 2020 and has only amassed 91 points at the conclusion of his entry-level contract. The Rangers opted to recently sign Lafreniere to a two-year bridge deal, setting the stage for him to prove himself this season.
Lafreniere had a somewhat disappointing preseason performance. He only scored one assist throughout all of his appearances and looked almost invisible when he was on the ice. If his preseason showing was any indication of how he’ll perform in the regular season, things are not looking good for Lafreniere. Although he’s starting the season on the second line, there could be a return to the bottom six in the near future if he does not find success.
Lafreniere needs to focus on producing points. Not every first-overall pick will have an immediate breakout like Connor McDavid, but there needs to be some sign of life from Lafreniere.
He’s entering his fourth NHL season, and he has little to show for it. While there’ll hopefully be some sort of spark in his development, it’s safe to say that Lafreniere will not be the most successful of the kids.
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Kakko is the biggest boom or bust on the Rangers’ top-line
Kakko has received the best opportunity out of any of the kids with a spot on the Rangers’ first line. He’s projected to play alongside Chris Kreider and Mika Zibanejad, two of the best goal-scorers on the Blueshirts. If there’s any line combination that could help Kakko finally break out, it’s this one.
Although Kakko has put up similar career numbers to Lafreniere, he seems to be a lot further along in his development. Kakko is strong with the puck, and looks confident on the ice, but just doesn’t have the point totals to go with it. It’s not his abilities keeping him down, it’s a lack of opportunities and an almost comical amount of bad puck-luck.
Playing on the first line is setting Kakko up for a career season. Kreider has the ability to deflect shots and put in rebounds, and Zibanejad will finish any one-timer shot that Kakko sets him up for.
There is an incredibly high potential with this line, but time will tell if it actually works out. There should definitely be some significant improvement from Kakko, but there is one final kid who should find the most success.
Chytil will reach new highs playing with the Rangers’ number-one offensive star
Chytil is projected to start the season as the center on the second line, replacing Vincent Trocheck. He’ll remain with his long-term linemate Lafreniere, but now also be slotted next to superstar Artemi Panarin. Many players have been elevated by Panarin in the past, and Chytil seems to be next in line. The same could be said about Lafreniere, but Chytil has a stronger skill foundation to build upon.
Chytil is far and beyond the most developed of any of the kids. Not only is he the oldest, but he’s also had the highest point totals. There is some health concern regarding Chytil, as he is constantly finding himself out with injuries. But if he can stay healthy for the entire 2023-24 season, he definitely has the most potential.
“Chytil was a full participant at Tuesday’s practice after being limited during training camp as a precaution. Going into the 2023-24 campaign, he is slated to center the second line of the Rangers and work on the second power-play unit. Chytil produced personal bests last season in goals (22), assists (23), points (45) and shots on net (177) over 74 games.”via CBS Sports
Panarin is an elite playmaker which should fit nicely with Chytil’s abilities. He has a great shot and would find no trouble finishing Panarin’s plays. With a previous career high of 45 points last season, Chytil could aim for the 60-point mark on the Rangers’ second line.