Rangers: Will Kaapo Kakko find more success on a defensive third line?

New York Rangers right wing Kaapo Kakko (24) skates across the blue line against the Boston Bruins  during the third at Madison Square Garden
Dennis Schneidler-USA TODAY Sports

The New York Rangers are beginning to shift their lines around following a handful of injuries and some disappointing performances from key players. One of the most noticeable changes seen in practice was a major swap between Kaapo Kakko and Blake Wheeler.

Neither player has found success so far this season, but it is still shocking to see a promising young star like Kakko be demoted back to the bottom six after just 11 games. Head coach Peter Laviolette claims he wanted him to have a change of scenery, which is justified based on his lack of points on the first line, but it’s still a questionable decision to send Kakko down to the third.

Kakko was not performing well on the Rangers’ first line

In 11 games played, Kakko has only scored one goal along with one assist this season. As a first-line breakout candidate, these numbers are nowhere near where the Rangers want the former second-overall pick to be. But this issue may not fall upon Kakko’s shoulders alone.

Mika Zibanejad and Chris Kreider, Kakko’s partners on the first line, haven’t been too successful either when that first line is intact. Per Statmuse, six of Zibanejad’s nine points this season have come on either the power play or penalty kill when he is not playing with Kakko. The same could be said about six of Kreider’s 10 total points.

The point is, although Zibanejad and Kreider have been tallying points, very few have come when that first line is all playing together. So perhaps Laviolette is right to try to change things up.

Kakko’s strength and puck control could come in handy on a defensive third line

The new third line seen in practice consists of Will Cuylle, Nick Bonino, and Kakko. Cuylle and Bonino are both playing well defensively, and Kakko may fit in perfectly with them.

While Kakko hasn’t found himself on the scoresheet much this season, he’s excelled in many other areas of the game. His strength and puck-control skills have made him a dominant force in entering the zone and establishing possession. These abilities also help deter the opponent from gaining control, as Kakko makes it difficult for any opposing player to strip the puck away from him.

In a line that appears to be built for blocking shots, playing scrappy, and shutting down top offensive units, Kakko and his skills may be a welcomed addition. His point totals most likely won’t increase by much, but his defensive abilities can be put to better use than they were with Kreider and Zibanejad.

Once Filip Chytil returns from injury and Vincent Trocheck returns to the third line, Kakko may finally earn those points as well if the Rangers’ new third line remains together long-term.

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