Heading into the new season, The New York Rangers have a lot of positive things to take away from the previous season. For many of the players, It was their first somewhat full season on Broadway. For a select few, they are now one season closer to finishing where they left off in 2014. I could write about big names all I want on The Rangers, but I find it’s the guys that lurk in the shadows, that wind up being the ones to catch a team off guard. The following three players on The Rangers are the most slept on players, who are definitely within reach of a breakout season.
Kaapo Kakko made his NHL debut as an 18 year old forward from Finland in 2019. If you were to ask Kakko before he came to America if he was ready for the bright lights, the only thing he would think of is Finland’s Aurora Borealis. After spending his first season in New York, it’s safe to say Kakko’s definition of “bright lights” now consists of Time Square and Madison Square Garden… and maybe the Northern Lights. Aside from the big cultural transition, Kakko’s rookie season had its up and downs. The high anticipation for Kakko to succeed was met with glimpses of Kakko’s potential. Occasionally, Kakko would dazzle the fans with his amazing hands, and quick shot. However, the majority of fans had their mindset on Kakko coming right out of the rookie gate, and immediately blossoming into one of the next great Ranger players.
On the other hand, what many fans failed to notice, is that Kakko has only scratched the surface in his career. With his name being immediately thrown into the spotlight, Kakko found a way to slowly but surely progress. In addition, Kakko’s lack of confidence at the beginning of the season began to fizzle away as he began to play more games. A great example of this, was during the playoffs this past season. His dedication to improving himself over the lockdown reveals a lot about Kakko’s desire to succeed.
Looking Towards His Future As A Ranger
As far as I’m concerned, I am confident Kakko will steadily improve this season. I don’t think his stats are going to exponentially increase in terms of points, but I do believe his play will foreshadow what’s to come. Now that Kakko is acclimating to The Rangers, I think there is a good chance he comes close to doubling his points from last season. Depending on which line he is on, he could very well exceed that. The reason why I project his stats to increase lies in his style of play. When watching Kakko play, I notice that he has a good feel for the game. On the ice, he is usually always in the right position and at the right time. Next time you watch Kakko play, notice how he subtly lingers around the slot.
A prime example of this is from a couple of his backdoor goals last season. This backdoor/slot area is a perfect area for Kakko to roam. His quick one-timer and wrist shots resemble the shooting style of Artemi Panarin. Not only does Kakko’s positioning on this spot of the ice makes him a scoring threat, but it also makes him a hinge player. This “hinge players’ is often used on The Rangers powerplay with Panarin. By feeding a pass through the slot to Panarin on the weak side, allows for either a quick shot or cycling of the puck either down low or back up high. If Kakko can shadow Panarin’s positioning and hinge effect, his scoring opportunities will skyrocket.
Kakko surely has the talent to become a top winger in the NHL. With some confidence, a slight amount of selfishness, and a desire to fulfill his role, he can very well become a player with something to prove in the 2021 season.
If I had to guess which of the Rangers players is bound to have a massive breakout year, I would tell you it’s going to be Filip Chytil. At 21 years old, Chytil is nowhere near his final product. Although his past few seasons as a Ranger have been mediocre, he is beginning to knock on the door of excellence. With the need for depth in the center position on The Rangers, Chytil has not been as much of a talking point as he should be. Instead, many suspect trading for another center will relieve The Rangers of their problems. However, I am confident Chytil will solidify his role this season as a third-line center, and hopefully in the future, move up to the second line.
There are a variety of reasons Chytil could potentially have a breakout year. For starters, the addition of Alexis Lafreniere. While it is unknown at the moment where Lafreniere will play, I speculate he could possibly find himself alongside Chytil. If this were to come true, both the young forwards could lean on each other for chemistry. I also hope if Lafreniere does play with Chytil, this will allow Chytil to take a step back, and observe how Lafreniere plays. The reason this will be so effective for Chytil is that his style of play is awfully similar to Lafreniere’s. The one downside of Chytil’s play appears to be his ability to finish. This is why if Chytil can shadow Lafreniere and his innate scoring abilities, he could well blossom into his very own scoring machine.
Another big reason Chytil is due for a massive year is his increase in points. In the 2018-2019 season, Chytil recorded 23 points in 75 games. Whereas this past season, he also recorded 23 points, just this time in 60 games. This gradual increase could indicate a big year for him. After playing alongside Kaapo Kakko for most of the season, Chytil has seen some of Kakko’s skill and merged it into his own game. This past season we have seen Chytil incorporate more dekes and dazzling moves than ever. This stems from Chytils increase in confidence, as he enters his fourth season as a Ranger.
With an increase in confidence, comes an increase in scoring chances; blend this with his deft moves, and Alexis Lafreniere at his disposal at left-wing, Chytil could potentially find himself at the center of The Rangers scoring chances this upcoming season.
This is a player who, unlike Kakko and Chytil, has not yet brought much attention to his name. Julien Gauthier was traded to The New York Rangers from The Carolina Hurricanes on February 18th, 2020. From there, Gauthier has seen the ice 12 times as a Blueshirt, including in the playoffs. Although his stats are not overwhelming, with 2 points in 12 games, Gauthier is only getting beginning to get his “feet cold,” on the ice as a Ranger. While many regard him as a third or fourth liner, I think Gauthier, with time, could be much more than that.
His strengths start, in fact, his very own strength. Standing at 6’4”, 227 lbs, Gauthier is one of the NHL’s biggest players, to say the least. From an early age, Gauthier and his dad, an Olympic bodybuilder, focused on strength and fitness. As the years went by, Gauthier appeared to have much more potential than standing on stage and flexing his muscles. Gauthier wanted to compete! As a result, he mixed in his dad’s weight training, with hockey in mind. By focusing on speed, power, and explosiveness, instead of bulk, mass, and weight, Gauthier’s hockey career began to excel. Because of his great strength and explosive speed, Gauthier was drafted 21st overall in the 2016 NHL draft.
From there, Gauthier has had the task of finding a solidified role in an NHL roster. With that, comes patience and determination. Something Gauthier is very fond of after years in the weight room.
Aside from his build, Gauthier is also impressive on the ice. His size and speed complement his ability to protect the puck effectively. His silky hands, and cunning moves, make him a threat the second he enters the offensive zone. Many have even compared his play to the former Ranger, Rick Nash. While I can certainly see the comparisons, I think Gauthier is a revamped Rick Nash. The youth Gauthier offers to the game fits in with Hockey’s changing style of play. Speed, quickness, and skill, is mainly where the game is going, and Gauthier has just that. This is a player built for success in the NHL, and on paper, may have it all. Although his NHL career is just getting started, I expect Gauthier to make massive strides in the 2021 season.
It is widely known that The New York Rangers lack offensive depth, especially on the third and fourth lines. The ability to have a player who displays amazing puckhandling skills at such a fast tempo is remarkable. If Gauthier does in fact play on the fourth line with let’s say, Brett Howden and Brendan Lemieux, his puck protection could be vital for this young line. Especially since Howden is a young centreman trying to find his game, Gauthier could be the staple of the fourth lines scoring opportunities.
All three of these players mentioned above have everything it takes to become a star in the NHL. Now it is up to them to make it happen. These three forwards can shape the game, as well as their point seeking lines, in many ways. Whether it’s Kaapo Kakko, a knowledgeable forward with the right intentions. Filip Chytil, a developing center in search of talented wingers for guidance. Or Julien Gauthier, the definition of a power forward with great offensive assets. I am confident these three players will not disappoint in the coming seasons.