NHL.com is providing in-depth analysis for each of its 31 teams throughout the next 31 days. Today, three important questions facing the New York Rangers.
1. What is reasonable to expect from Alexis Lafreniere?
Lafreniere was the No. 1 pick in the 2020 NHL Draft after leading the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League with 112 points (35 goals, 77 assists) in 52 games for Rimouski last season.
Rangers coach David Quinn said it’s too hard to predict how a 19-year-old will transition from junior to the NHL in a normal season, but it’s especially difficult now.
“Any answer I give you would be an uneducated one,” Quinn said.
Lafreniere is expected to have an impact as one of New York’s top three left wings along with Artemi Panarin and Chris Kreider.
Quinn’s plan going into training camp will be to go back to what worked last season, so Kreider will play with center Mika Zibanejad and Panarin will play with center Ryan Strome, leaving Lafreniere to be on the third line with center Filip Chytil.
“This is a guy that’s been an elite player for a long time,” Quinn said of Lafreniere. “His talent level certainly is NHL caliber, but one of the things that I like about him is I think his makeup is NHL caliber too.”
2. Is Kaapo Kakko ready to be a top-six forward?
The Rangers are planning for Kakko to be ready to play top-six minutes at right wing. The fit is as obvious as the need after Jesper Fast signed a three-year contract with the Carolina Hurricanes on Oct. 10. Fast played regularly with Panarin and Strome last season.
Kakko, with his array of stickhandling and power moves, could work well on that line, especially with Panarin drawing the bulk of the attention from the defense.
The No. 2 pick in the 2019 NHL Draft, Kakko scored 23 points (10 goals, 13 assists) in 66 games last season, 11th among rookies. Kakko played mostly as a bottom-six forward, getting most of his ice time on the third line.
3. Who will move to the left side of the defense?
The Rangers could need either Tony DeAngelo or Adam Fox, each a right-handed shooting defenseman, to move to the left side on one of the top two pairs, replacing Marc Staal, who was traded to the Detroit Red Wings on Sept 26.
Quinn said DeAngelo and Fox each would be comfortable doing it, but moving Fox would mean separating him from Ryan Lindgren, the only lock among the left-shot defensemen in the top six. They were the Rangers’ most consistent pair last season.
DeAngelo is the better candidate to move and play with righty Jacob Trouba, giving him top-pair and top power-play minutes. DeAngelo scored 53 points (15 goals, 38 assists) in 68 games last season.
The potential of rookies K’Andre Miller or Tarmo Reunanen making the team would go a long way toward solving the issue on the left side. Jack Johnson, Brendan Smith and Anthony Bitetto are also left-shot options.