The Rangers need to keep the successful Kid Line working together and longer in 2022

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Filip Chytil. Rangers left wing Alexis Lafrenière and Carolina Hurricanes center Seth Jarvis chase the puck during the 2nd period of Game 6.
Rangers left wing Alexis Lafrenière and Carolina Hurricanes center Seth Jarvis chase the puck during the 2nd period of Game 6.
AP Photo/John Minchillo

The New York Rangers have an interesting conundrum heading into the start of the 2022-23 NHL season. While stars like Mika Zibanejad, Artemi Panarin, and others are locked into their regular roles, other “less-proven” players are competing for starting spots along the forward lines. 

The addition of Vincent Trocheck in free agency allowed New York to ask the simple question: who will fill the final spots in the first and second line? 

Names like Vitali Kravtsov, Sammy Blais, and Jimmy Vesey have all been experimented with in each role. The results have differed throughout the five preseason games to this point. 

One group who has stayed together since the Stanley Cup Playoff run from last year is the “Kid Line” of Alexis Lafreniere, Filip Chytil, and Kaapo Kakko. The young trio was a major part of the Rangers’ deep playoff run last season and had analysts wondering whether New York’s front office would rather break them up in the future, or keep them together for next season. 

The debate to keep the Kid Line together or not has become a major storyline throughout the preseason as the group continues to dominate. In Wednesday’s 5-4 loss to Boston, the Lafreniere-Chytil-Kakko trio attributed to two goals, a forced penalty, and several offensive chances. 

Was it enough to show that the “kids” deserve to continue to work together once the real games start? 

“If they’re playing that way, you’d like to keep them together. But we’ve got to get the other guys going.” Gallant said after Wednesday’s contest. 

The ability to keep the kids together depends largely on the Rangers’ other role players producing well enough to earn everyday minutes on the ice. Players like Vitali Kravtsov and others will need to show they can handle the pressure that comes with being on a top line. If they can’t the pressure to break up the kid line will continue to grow. 

On Wednesday night, those “bubble” players like Kravtsov didn’t do enough according to the Rangers head coach.

“I didn’t like our game tonight, not just (Kravtsov).” Gallant added “a lot of them didn’t do themselves favors with tonight’s game. Hopefully, they’ll get back and play better than they did today.”

A player like Kravtsov is not just playing to earn a spot on the top line, but to also show last year’s off-ice struggles are behind him. After refusing to report to Hartford after being cut, the Russian-born player decided to stay in Russia for the season. 

Through five preseason games, Kravtsov has yet to record a point in the preseason with most of his work being done with Artemi Panarin and Vincent Trocheck on the same line. While New York has reportedly been pleased with the work that Kravtsov has shown in training camp, production in actual games will determine just how good the former first-round pick will be, and if the Rangers need to make future line adjustments. 

If he isn’t able to produce at a high level, then the kid line will most likely be forced to break up. As good as the young trio has been, last season saw Lafreniere lead the group with just about 12 minutes of ice time. 

Would the Rangers be smart to have a trio like the kids play so little with under 12 minutes of combined ice time? As the goals continue to mount in preseason action for the group, Gallant and the rest of the Rangers coaching staff will need to find a plan for all three youngsters. 

No longer can the third line be playing significantly fewer minutes than those above them as long as the kids are together. The Lafreniere-Chytil-Kakko group poses the most challenges to teams this season. 

It won’t matter which role players are also above them: the kid line must begin to get more ice team as long as they are together. 

The wins will only begin to pile up after them. 

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