During their run to the Eastern Conference Finals last season, the New York Rangers’ “Kid Line” had been a surprising force against some of the league’s best. Alexis Lafreniere, Filip Chytil, and Kaapo Kakko each brought something unique together and accounted for over 20 points as a group in the Rangers’ playoff run.
Going into the 2022-23 NHL season, questions had been robust on the future of the kids though. Would Gerard Gallant keep them together to have a dominant third line? Would it be better to break them up for the chance of each breaking out on their own?
In the end, Gallant started the season with the latter. Kakko has worked almost exclusively with Mika Zibanejad and Chris Kreider on the top line, while Alexis Lafreniere has been dominating with Artemi Panarin and Vincent Trocheck.
In total, the kids have accounted for seven points, but their impact on the ice is far greater than just a couple of numbers.
Kakko has fit in well with Zibanejad and Kreider, Lafreniere has been a major stabilizing force with Panarin and Trocheck, and Chytil has been the major offensive catalyst for the bottom six lines.
“They are playing great hockey. The kids really took a step. They are getting scoring chances every night, they’re playing responsible defense. We’re happy with the way they are progressing.” Gerard Gallant told AMNY after practice Tuesday.
The kids haven’t gotten a ton of time together but that doesn’t mean they haven’t completely played together. Clinging to a one-goal lead late in the second period, and after missing on a powerplay, Chytil and Lafreniere hooked up for the latter’s first goal of the season and a key two-goal advantage.
The pass and score alone was an example of the growing skillset of the kids. Chytil, one could argue, hasn’t had as many top chances to score as the other top centers on the roster, but has continuously made plays to keep the bottom lines afloat for the Rangers.
“He’s (Chytil) bigger, stronger, and more of a man’s game and that’s exactly what took place last year,” Gallant said. “He’s playing great hockey. Strong with the puck, winning face-offs, and doing all the things that matter. He’s doing a good job.”
Chytil’s strength at the face-off battle has been a pleasant surprise for the Rangers to start the season. The former first-round pick has increased his win percentage by 12% early in his sixth NHL season. He’s not the only young player who has shown massive improvement after a slow start to his career though.
Kaapo Kakko could be considered buried on a line with Mika and Kreider, but the former second-overall pick is showing the puck skills and scoring ability that made him one of the best draft picks coming into the NHL.
“I think we played our best game last night. I think for me, it’s a good opportunity to play with a couple of very good players. So it’s good for me also: we’ve been scoring goals and doing out things so that’s good for us.” Kakko told AMNY on Tuesday.
Kakko scored once in the Rangers’ latest win over Anaheim and showed that he is a perfect fit for the brilliance of his linemates. The Finnish hockey player also credits his time working with Lafreniere and Chytil as a major stepping stone for his career.
“I think we played a really good playoffs with that line of (Alexis) Lafreniere and Filip (Chytil). So it helps me a lot and I think for those guys also that’s a good thing.” Kakko said.
The Rangers’ season will hinge largely on the development and playing style of the young kids. If the first four games of the season are any indication, New York is in for a special season and Gallant will be commended for letting each grow apart from the other.