Rangers split Kid Line in preseason win over Islanders

Bringing together Alexis Lafrenière, Filip Chytil and Kaapo Kakko to start the season may be the natural path to take, given the familiarity and their stellar playoff performances, but Rangers’ long-term youth hopes demand that all three be assessed separately.

After being separated for the final playoff game of last season – when Kakko was knocked out in favor of Dryden Hunt – the Kid Line were reunited on the first two days of Rangers training camp. Ahead of the first preseason game against the Islanders on Monday, however, the trio was split into not only different lines, but also different playing groups.

Rangers will need Lafrenière and Kakko in particular to eventually become the top six players, whether or not that happens this season remains to be seen. But with four of the top six spots set in stone given the contracts attached to them, the 20- and 21-year-old wingers will likely have to succeed in those roles on their own, not as part of a line together.

« They’re talented players and they feel comfortable playing with each other, » Gallant said of the Kid Line earlier in camp. « I don’t know where it’s going to be in exhibition games, or Game 1 of the regular season. We’ll see what our range looks like and how things evolve. But if they start together, I’m happy. They are a good line. »

Filip Chytil skates in Rangers’ pre-season win over the Islanders.
Jason Szenes

So Kakko found himself in the right wing spot on the front row alongside Chris Kreider and Mika Zibanejad in Rangers’ 4-1 pre-season opener win over the Islanders on Monday night at Madison Square. Garden. He picked up an assist to make Zac Jones 4-0 in the second period. While skating in the middle of Jimmy Vesey and Vitali Kravtsov, Chytil got an assist on Jimmy Vesey’s power play count in the first period.

That leaves Lafrenière alongside Vincent Trocheck with Artemi Panarin, presumably in the second preseason contest in Boston on Tuesday.

Pre-season is a time to experiment with line combinations, but it’s also an evaluation period that management can use to assess where certain players’ games are at. Lafrenière, who was second on the team in even-strength goals last season (19) behind just Kreider’s 23, started in the top unit in 2021-22 but couldn’t keep his spot . The first overall pick in the 2020 NHL Draft is expected to return there.

Last season, Lafrenière recorded just 26:31 5-for-5 with Panarin and Strome, so it makes sense management would want a more extended look. Lafrenière has said time and time again that he’s comfortable playing on both wings, but front-line work would likely require him to skate on his offside.

« He took a big step in the playoffs, physically, » Gallant said of Lafrenière, whose 50 playoff hits trailed only the 52 recorded by Kreider and Ryan Reaves and the league-leading 73 hits. team of Jacob Trouba. “I don’t want him to play like that all the time. He was running around, he was probably one of our most aggressive players in the playoffs, but I loved the way he played and competed.

Kaapo Kakko tries to pass.
Kaapo Kakko tries to pass.
Jason Szenes

« He’s not going to do that for 82 games, but you bring that game and your best game is a big part of it. I think Laffy played a full game in the playoffs.

Kakko saw 170:07 alongside Panarin and Strome last season, finishing with eight goals for and four against, according to Natural Stat Trick. Sidelined for 31 games with a wrist injury, Kakko couldn’t get into the rhythm until he joined Lafrenière and Chytil in the playoffs.

« I think the first thing is to try to be healthy this season, » Kakko said. « I think I played well in the playoffs, so I try to keep doing those things. »


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