After finally deciding to run with the kids the Rangers still have a chance of making the postseason in 2021. Questionable coaching decisions led to many fans becoming extremely vocal about David Quinn giving the kids more run and finally the tide has turned in the lineup decisions and the team has flourished because of it.
If you listen to 30 On Broadway or follow me on Twitter you know that I’m critical of Chris Kreider, some might say overly critical at times. Nevertheless, David Quinn has finally decided to drop Kreider to the third line and put Alexis Lafreniere with Zibanejad and Buchnevich and the Rangers have been rewarded. Lafreniere has elevated his offense to another level since being put with 93 and 89 and whether that’s because he felt the need to elevate to show he deserves top line minutes or he’s just more comfortable now with 45+ NHL games under his belt he’s been phenomenal.
Since being put on the top line Lafreniere has shown the skill and playmaking ability that got him drafted first overall this past year. Laf’s ability to see the ice and open up passing lanes hasn’t just helped Zibanejad’s offense but has added another element to Buch’s offensive ability as well.
Seeing Laf’s emergence on the top line has me wondering and asking, pretty loudly at that, what the hell took the team so long to promote him?
Don’t get me wrong it was definitely fun to watch “the kid line” of Lafreniere-Chytil-Kakko at times even though it didn’t necessarily create the offensive punch many fans were looking for. The line would also get hemmed into their own zone defensively too often so it only made sense to start splitting them up. The positives in them being put together is you could see the creativity and pure talent finally break through for the group. In an ideal world we would also see Kakko get bumped up to line two with Panarin and Strome and Blackwell could get dropped to the third or fourth line. Blackwell while being a fantastic addition for the Rangers, he lacks the offensive gift and pure talent that a player like Kakko has. Blackwell fits well into a role similar to former Rangers veteran Jesper Fast in the bottom 6. While able to slide into the top 6 when needed, he was best utilized in the later part of the lineup which is where Blackwell belongs.
Fans have been thirsting to see the goal scoring ability that Kakko has shown before he got to the NHL but part of the problem is at this level he needs help to get his shot off. While he does a great job of controlling the puck he still seems shy about using his body positioning to try and get his shot off. One way to solve that issue is by playing Kakko with a dynamic playmaker like Panarin who can open the ice and allow for one time opportunities for the young Fin.
Another “kid” Vitaly Kravtsov has really come out of his shell in his second run on Broadway. After a tough beginning last season and Kravtsov returning to the KHL it is now clear that the move was the best thing to happen for him. He has come out of the gate since being inserted into the lineup and has arguably been one of the best forwards for the Rangers all while being largely anchored by Brett Howden. While Kravstov has been pushed up in the lineup at times, its clear that the organization will not be able to keep him hemmed on the fourth line for much longer especially going into next season. With the logjam on the wings however, you would have to think Blackwell would drop to the fourth, Kravstov move up to the third and Kakko move to the second as mentioned above.
Even though the Rangers don’t have a lot of runway left to find a way into the postseason, the kids play has at least given the organization hope for some spring time and early summer hockey. One of the best ways to help the kids develop is to rely on them here down the stretch to either make or miss the postseason. After all, Kakko, Fox, Laf, Lindgren, Chytil, Miller, Kravtsov, and Shesterkin are keys to the future of this organization. It is just a shame it took until the almost last minute to make the adjustments that were clear far earlier on in the season.
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