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Vitali Kravtsov out for Rangers’ weekend slate: Kaapo Kakko shines in Tuesday’s 3-1 win.

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Kaapo Kakko - Rangers
Kaapo Kakko (AP Photo/Chris O’Meara)
AP Photos

Much of the future New York Rangers 2022-23 season will hinge on the play of their younger, talented players. 

Players like Alexis Lafreniere, Filip Chytil, and Kaapo Kakko all made names for themselves during last year’s Stanley Cup Playoff run for New York as part of the famed “Kid Line”. With the onset of free agency though, the young core of Rangers needed to show they could step up in major roles alongside current superstars like Mika Zibanejad and Artemi Panarin. 

Through two games, one young player has already shown a glimpse of the level of dominant play that fans should come to expect. 

Kaapo Kakko was benched in Game 6 of last year’s Eastern Conference Finals that saw the Rangers’ 2021-22 season end. 

This year, the former second-overall pick is not just playing, but starting on the top line with Zibanejad and Chris Kreider. While playing just 13 minutes to Zibanejad and Kreider’s 19+ minutes, Kakko still found a way to fill up the stat sheet in major ways. 

The Finnish star had two shots, a takeaway that ultimately led to a great scoring chance, and a blocked shot in Tuesday’s win. This coming from a player that did not have a ton of experience working with a cohesive line like Mika and Kreider, Kakko’s performance is even more impressive. 

“We’ve been kind of on and off throughout these years. I thought it worked out well. I think the more time we get, the better it’s going to get and I thought it looked pretty good tonight.” Zibanejad told AMNY after the game. 

The top line wasn’t the only group impressed with the performance of Kakko either. 

“He played good, but I thought everybody played good. I was happy with everybody, and I thought he did a really good job.” Head coach Gerard Gallant said after the game. 

While there was a large discrepancy in time on the ice, Gallant made the note that it was only because they were on the powerplay, and penalty-kill ten combined times on Tuesday. 

“We had some powerplays there so they had to sit because the first unit was doing really well. So those guys didn’t get on the ice too much but I was happy with them all.” Gallant added. 

Kakko had dealt with injuries last season as well as the controversy of being an RFA after being benched for New York’s final playoff game of last season. He’s taken this offseason by storm, and after a strong preseason appears to be working nicely with the Rangers’ top line. 

New York will need him to continue with that success as the season progresses. 

Injury Update to Kravtsov

While New York ran relatively unchallenged on what was an exciting night of opening-day hockey, the news coming after the game wasn’t all good. 

Former first-round pick Vitali Kravtsov suffered an upper-body head injury in the first period after just a minute and a half of ice time. The Rangers announced this afternoon that Kravtsov would not make the trip with the team out to Minnesota and Winnipeg this week because of his upper body injury. 

The Rangers also announced that a possible return for Kravtsov would be next week. 

The Russian-born forward has had a difficult few years since being drafted by the Rangers in 2018. After refusing to report to Hartford last year, Kravtsov impressed the coaching staff enough during the offseason and had started on the second line with Vincent Trocheck and Artemi Panarin. 

Now, New York will expect to have Alexis Lafreniere moved up to Kravtsov’s spot, and Jimmy Vesey moved up to the third line with Filip Chytil and Barclay Goodrow. 

For more New York Rangers news, turn to AMNY.com

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