Kappo Kakko (left) and Alexis Lafrenière of the Rangers. 

Kappo Kakko (left) and Alexis Lafrenière of the Rangers.  Credit: Brad Penner | Christian Petersen/Getty Images

If you ask Alexis Lafrenière if he feels pressure to live up to being selected by the Rangers with the first overall pick in the 2020 draft, he’ll tell you there’s no pressure.

And that’s malarkey, according to teammate Mika Zibanejad.

“I can’t put myself in that situation, I can’t put myself in their shoes,’’ Zibanejad said. “[But] whatever you want to say, that you don’t feel pressure, you don’t think about it, for sure you do, at one point.

“Everyone who plays at this level, there’s pressure, and then to be able to, not just to deal with it, but you have to find a way to stick with your game, stick with your thing, for so long, because you know what you’re capable of doing. And I don’t know if ‘dealing with’ the pressure is the right word, but trusting yourself out there doing the right things. And, you know, keep doing it, and it will fall into place.’’

The folks who have nothing better to do than look at old drafts and write about where these players would be picked if those drafts were redone today would have the Rangers taking Tim Stutzle or Lucas Raymond with the No. 1 pick in 2020 instead of Lafrenière.

And in the 2019 draft, when the Rangers took Kaapo Kakko No. 2 overall after the Devils chose Jack Hughes, they’d want the Rangers to take Trevor Zegras or Moritz Seider at No. 2 instead of Kakko, based on what the players have done in their NHL careers.

But what is the point of that, exactly?

First of all, at the time of those NHL Drafts, Lafrenière, at No. 1, and Kakko, at No. 2, were the consensus picks to make based on what they’d done at that point.

Kakko was playing against men in the top professional league in Finland and scored 22 goals in 45 games in his draft year. Oh, and he scored the game-winning goal to beat Hughes and the USA for the gold medal in the World Junior Championship, then won gold with Finland again at the Men’s World Championship.

He also won gold at the World U-18s. Any other team drafting No. 2 overall that year would have picked him.

Second of all, as Rangers coach Gerard Gallant always points out, Stutzle, Zegras et al all are on teams that are or were behind the Rangers in their rebuilding schedules. So those players were afforded the opportunity of more ice time and more significant roles earlier in their careers than Lafrenière and Kakko were.

Zegras, for example, has nine goals and 22 points in 25 games this season compared to Kakko’s four goals and eight points in 25. But Anaheim has the worst record in the NHL at 6-16-3. Zegras centers the first line and gets first-unit power-play time for the Ducks.

Would Zegras score at that rate for the Rangers who, at 11-9-5 before Saturday’s game against Chicago, are in a battle to get into a playoff spot? Not with Zibanejad above him on the depth chart, he wouldn’t.

Hughes, the player to whom Kakko is always compared, took off in 2021-22 in his third NHL season and became a star — in fact, he was an NHL All-Star. Now he looks on the verge of becoming a superstar.

But if you compare his first two seasons in the league with Kakko’s, they’re pretty similar. Hughes had 18 goals and 52 points in 117 games in his first two seasons; Kakko had 19 goals and 40 points in 114 games in his first two.

Watching Kakko this season, he’s worked the boards so well, he’s possessed the puck so well, he’s gone to the net, and so many nights he’s generated a plethora of tremendous scoring chances. He hasn’t finished as many of them as he or anyone else would like, but as the Rangers keep saying, if the chances keep coming, the goals will come eventually.

“For any player, creating chances, getting the chances and having them not go in, it’s obviously frustrating,’’ Zibanejad said. “But if he keeps doing that, it’s going to come in bunches . . . Obviously, you want to score, but I’d rather have 10 chances and not score than zero and not generate anything.’’

Obsessing over Kakko and Lafrenière’s draft positions is simply not helpful when it comes to evaluating who they are as players now, how they fit with the Rangers, what their potential is for the future, how much they should earn in a salary-cap world and whether they should be keepers or tradable assets.

What the Rangers have in Lafrenière (who is going to need a new contract this summer) and Kakko are two good young players who appear to be coachable and have enough talent and drive to be contributors to what should be a good Rangers team. Isn’t that what you want?

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