Kaapo Kakko and Alexis Lafreniere hold the key to the New York Rangers 2022-23 season. Strong performances from both players can lessen the need for their stars to produce on a nightly basis while also keeping pressure off their reigning Vezina-winning goaltender, Igor Shesterkin.
Yet both high draft picks from the Rangers have gone through frustrating starts to the season.
It’s not that Kakko and Lafreniere have played poorly, far from it, it’s that their offensive numbers don’t match the high quality of play that both are putting forth on the ice.
Kakko has recorded three total points with two goals in 11 games played. Lafreniere, on the other hand, has tallied five points with three assists. These numbers aren’t bad, but considering the number of chances each player has had over the first two weeks of the season, the low numbers are surprising.
The perfect example arose in Tuesday night’s overtime win over the Philadelphia Flyers. Lafreniere hit the post twice while Kakko used his physicality to draw a penalty and get multiple great looks at the net.
Neither could finish though.
For both players, the shots being made tell more about how each is playing than the actual goals being scored.
“It’s always good signs when you get chances. It means you play well with the puck…I think the big part is getting our chances and with our skills getting our chances we’re going to score.” Lafreniere told AMNY Wednesday. “I’m making more plays and forechecking hard…We need the puck to bounce our way sometimes.”
Kakko’s game is a bit different than Lafreniere’s. His physicality had him all over the ice in Tuesday’s win while matchup up the Flyers extremely well. To the former second-overall pick, that is just part of his game.
“My ice time is the most I’ve ever played over here. I think, of course when you get on the ice and get those chances…I think I’ve been playing good, staying with the puck.” Kakko said. “There aren’t many points yet but I still got some chances. Our line is playing good in the offensive zone and those points and goals are coming if we play like that.”
It’s easy for two young players like Kakko and Lafreniere to be discouraged by the lack of points, but strong ice time. Head coach Gerard Gallant hasn’t seen any change in the young stars though.
“Keep doing what you’re doing..you just gotta stay with it. Fortunately, we won last night but play your game and play well.” Gallant told reporters Wednesday.
Gallant also highlighted the play of Kakko recently saying “he’s confident with the puck, he’s creating chances every night.”
Other coaches from around the league have also taken notice of the Finnish star. Citing conversations during their recent road trip, Gallant wasn’t surprised that word has begun to spread about Kaapo’s improved play.
“We know that but when another coach says that he’s really coming. He’s been really good.”
The Rangers will need both Lafreniere and Kakko to continue to play at a high level as they compete in a strong and competitive Metropolitan division. The numbers may not be there right away, but they’ll come with time.
And that mantra has seeped through the rest of the Rangers locker room.