GREENBURGH, NY — A fellow coach recently pulled Gerard Gallant aside for a quick word.
The topic of conversation was Kappo Kakko. More generally, his improvement as a player.
The accolades Gallant heard reinforced his belief that both player and organization have deftly handled the development of the No. 2 pick in the 2019 draft.
“‘This Kakko kid, he’s really taken a big step,'” was Gallant’s recollection of what the named coach told him. “We know that, but when another coach says that, it’s really good.”
Undoubtedly. And now Rangers are reaping the rewards of the steady progress made by both Kakko and Alexis Lafreniere.
Kakko and Lafreniere’s play so far this season has been key to the performance of the top two lines overall.
According to analysis site MoneyPuck.com, the top line of Chris Krieider, Mika Zibanejad and Kakko has attempted more shots than their opponents (150-99). The second line of Artemi Panarin, Vincent Trocheck and Lafreniere has 48 more shot attempts than their opponents (157-109).
“We did the things (that) we’ve been talking about,” Kakko said. “Keep the puck in his zone.”
As a result, the Rangers have become one of the league’s best puck-possession teams. Natural Stat Trick, a data mining site, has the Rangers as the NHL’s fifth-best Corsi For team at 54.7% and the fourth-best Fenwick For team at 56.87%. Corsi tracks the total number of unblocked shot attempts while Fenwick counts all shot attempts.
All of which is why Gallant is pleased with the play of his two young stars, even if their individual scores don’t necessarily jump off the page.
“You get the chances,” Gallant said, in response to a question about what he tells his two young stars. Both have played in all 11 games this season. Kakko has a 2-1-3 slash while Lafreniere checks in at 2-3-5. “You just have to keep working and stay with it.”
Chytil is a full participant in training
Filip Chytil was a full participant in the short but up-tempo 25-minute workout. With Zibanejad and Jacob Trouba both receiving maintenance days, Chytil centered the top line between Kakko and Chris Kreider. Libor Hajek was paired with K’Andre Miller on the second defensive pairing.
During his post-practice availability with reporters, Gallant said Chytil is “day-to-day, but it’s definitely a possibility,” that the third-line center could rejoin the team for Thursday’s game against Boston.
If Chytil plays, it will be his first action since suffering an upper-body injury in the first period of the Rangers’ 5-1 loss to Columbus on Oct. 23. Chytil appeared to be elbowed in the head by Blue Jackets center Cole Sillinger during his second — and final — shift of the game.
The next day, the Rangers said he was day-to-day, but he participated in last Friday’s practice but left early because Chytil, according to Gallant at the time, “wasn’t feeling well.” The 23-year-old did not travel with the team on this weekend’s trips to Dallas and Arizona, and he was scratched along with Vitali Kravtsov (upper body injury) and Hajek for a 1-0 overtime win over the Flyers on Tuesday night.
Chytil was not in the locker room when it was open to reporters after the training session.