Rangers: Which of the kids will take the final first line spot by opening night?

new york rangers, kaapo kakko, rangers, nyr
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

With the preseason underway, the New York Rangers have been experimenting with line combinations created by head coach Peter Laviolette throughout the week’s practices. One of the major storylines throughout the 2023 offseason has been determining what roles both Alexis Lafreniere and Kaapo Kakko will fill this upcoming season, especially due to the departure of both Vladimir Tarasenko and Patrick Kane.

It was heavily theorized throughout the summer that Kakko would be playing on the first line in 2023-24, but training camp has shown other possibilities as well.

Lafreniere is continuously receiving time on the Rangers’ first-line

During the first practice of training camp, Lafreniere was slotted alongside Chris Kreider and Mika Zibanejad as the first-line right wing. Laviolette had confirmed that he would be shifting the lines around in the weeks leading up to the regular season, but so far, it seems as if Lafreniere has found himself on the first line on a constant basis.

Today, Lafreniere is still playing with Kreider and Zibanejad. There’s still plenty of time for Laviolette to shift things around, but it appears that he sees something special with that first line. In the opening exhibition game against the Boston Bruins, Lafreniere looked like one of the more solid players wearing a Rangers jersey.

It was an overall disappointing defeat, but the former first-overall pick seemed to fit in nicely on the right side. It’s likely that a handful of other players such as Kakko will have time in that position as well soon, but it’s hard to deny Lafreniere’s success in the role so far.

Kakko has received minimal time in the top six

Even if Kakko were to not already be receiving first-line playing time, he should still at least be tested on the second. However, the young star still remains a majority bottom-six player throughout this year’s training camp.

Earlier today, Kakko started on the third line with Jimmy Vesey and Vincent Trocheck. It appears as if Kakko will be playing with Artemi Panarin and Filip Chytil for a brief period of time today, but that will be his first appearance in the Rangers’ top six thus far.

Rangers experimenting with new exciting line combo

According to Vince Mercogliano, Laviolette is experimenting with a new line combination of Panarin-Chytil-Kakko. This line sounds like a recipe for success, but it is only experimental for now.

Kakko will surely receive time with Kreider and Zibanejad at some point, but only time will tell how he performs and what decision Laviolette decides to make.

Who will be the Rangers’ first-line RW?

Despite Lafreniere’s increasing amount of first-line playing time, the odds are still in Kakko’s favor. He hasn’t gotten any chances to play with Zibanejad or Kreider just yet, but there is still plenty of time before opening night rolls around. Lafreniere has been in the process of transitioning over to the right wing, and playing with the Rangers’ top players certainly helped him.

Kakko will need to show his abilities on the first line as well before Laviolette makes a final decision on October 12th. Both of the kids have untapped potential to be stars, and a breakout campaign is possible on either of the lines.

Kakko is a bigger player with elite puck control skills, and those abilities might align with Kreider and Zibanejad’s play style slightly more than Lafreniere’s would.

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