The New York Rangers have a dilemma regarding the former second-overall pick in 2019 Kaapo Kakko. Controversy surrounds the Rangers after head coach Gerard Gallant made a puzzling decision to bench Kakko for Game Six of the Eastern Conference Finals. The Rangers went on to lose this game, ending their season after a deep playoff run.
Gerard Gallant’s decision to make Kaapo Kakko a healthy scratch has clouded the 21-year-old winger’s future in New York. Kakko was once viewed as a promising young talent that would be featured in the Rangers’ lineup for years to come. But after three up-and-down seasons in New York, Kakko is now a restricted free agent and could be on his way out of the Big Apple. The Rangers need to make a decision on what they want to do with Kaapo Kakko.
What should the New York Rangers do with Kaapo Kakko?
Kaapo Kakko was benched for Dryden Hunt in Game Six of the Eastern Conference Finals, breaking up the “Kid Line” during the Rangers’ most crucial matchup. Gallant’s decision to scratch Kakko was not communicated ahead of time, as Kaapo said he knew “nothing” and “just saw the lineup.” Kakko is planning on using this scratch decision to motivate him in the future:
“I’m going to show that I’m better than that. You should put me in the lineup. I’m a good player.” – Kaapo Kakko on being a healthy scratch for Game 6 of the 2022 Eastern Conference Finals
As Kaapo Kakko looks to become a better player in the future, the Rangers need to decide whether he will try to do that in New York or elsewhere. New York is projected to have around $13 million in salary cap space this offseason. They also have a slew of other impending free agents to make decisions on, including Copp, Strome, Vatrano, and others. Is Kaapo Kakko worthy of a second contract?
Injuries play a factor when considering Kakko’s future with the team. Kakko appeared in only 42 games this season. This could be argued as a reason to let the 2019 first-round pick walk in free agency, but it could also be used as a point to sign Kakko to a cheapened contract.
Kaapo Kakko has not exactly lived up the hype of his second-overall draft selection. He scored a career-high in points during his rookie season (23) and only managed to contribute 18 points in 2021. There is still a lot of untapped potential in Kaapo Kakko, though, as he is only 21-years-old. The Rangers should hope to extend Kaapo Kakko for two-to-three years at around $3-3.5 million. But, of course, as a restricted free agent, a number of teams could be interested in Kakko and send in offer sheets.