It is true in the macro sense that what is good for Kaapo Kakko is good for the Rangers. At this moment, though, what is good for the Rangers is promoting Kakko from the second power-play unit to the first, if not also getting the second-overall draft selection onto the first line at five-on-five.
This is not a reaction to how the Devils are deploying first-overall Jack Hughes, who does play on New Jersey’s first man-advantage unit. Neither is this a knee-jerk response to the Blueshirts going 0-for-6 in 10:38 of power-play time in Thursday’s 5-2 defeat to New Jersey at the Rock. Not at all.
Rather, this is the view following a fourth straight match in which Pavel Buchnevich did very little in order to secure that spot up-front alongside Chris Kreider and Mika Zibanejad (with Artemi Panarin lining up at the point across from Jacob Trouba) on the man-advantage unit and to hold onto his first-line assignment on the right at even strength with Zibanejad and Panarin.
David Quinn awarded Buchnevich that coveted position on the first day of training camp, the coach then citing No. 89’s strong 2018-19 finish. But Quinn surely didn’t mean this would be a lifetime appointment. Filip Chytil was going to be the team’s second-line center, remember, until he wasn’t.
Again, this is not a reaction to the power-play unit’s inability to cash in against a desperate Devils team that won its first game after six defeats (1-4-2) opened the season. Happens to the best of them, which the Rangers actually do have a chance to be with their power-play components.
Trouba, who cranked out five shots on seven attempts throughout the match, chuckled as he said, “We’re not pushing the panic button about the power play.” Of course he is correct, even with the Blueshirts failing on their last 10 with the man-advantage over the last two games.
But the thing is, with the top unit generally staying on for at least 1:30, there’s little time left for Kakko to work with the second unit. The first unit was on for 1:52 on the first man-advantage. The fact is, though, that there hasn’t been enough time, period, for Kakko, who played only 3:32 in the first (before staying out for 1:31 on his first shift of the second).
The Finn finished with 16:13 of ice time, 49 seconds above his average entering the match, getting 6:47 in the second period and 5:54 in the third, when he became the extra attacker on a late six-on-four after the club pulled Alexandar Georgiev. And while Kakko was fine throughout the match, he just didn’t have the puck enough.
Indeed, Kakko hasn’t had the puck all that much through his first four NHL games. That is as much a function of the Rangers spending too much time defending and/or chasing the puck as it is a commentary on the winger’s performance thus far. The Blueshirts did have the puck more often in this one, they did spend a bit more time below the offensive-zone hash marks, but still couldn’t make life tough enough on netminder Mackenzie Blackwood.
Hughes, meanwhile, recorded the first point of his NHL career, getting an assist on a midair deflection of Matt Tennyson’s drive from the right point before the puck glanced in off Myles Wood’s torso in front to give the Devils a 3-1 lead.
The first-overall selection played only 13:09, well below his previous average of 15:50, even though he filled in for the injured Nico Hischier as the first-line center between Taylor Hall and Kyle Palmieri. He is fifth on the team in power-play time.
The Devils are straddling more of a line between building for the future and trying to win now than the Rangers. If for no other reason, they need a platform of success off which to seduce pending free agent Taylor Hall into signing an extension rather than fleeing. Patience is a virtue but it is one that the 2017-18 Hart winner, 29 next month and having played in only two playoff rounds over the first nine years of his career, may not possess.
Kakko, though, he can be patient. Quinn, team president John Davidson and general manager Jeff Gorton, they can afford to take the long view. But that doesn’t mean standing pat when that isn’t good enough. That doesn’t mean being passive.
When there are moves to be made, the Rangers should make them. That starts with moving Kakko in and Buchnevich out of the first power-play unit. Maybe the first line, too.
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