One of the things Rangers coach David Quinn says often about his younger players is that perhaps the biggest thing they have to learn is how to find ways to feel good about themselves even when they’re not scoring goals.
Quinn often has said it about Kaapo Kakko, the 18-year-old rookie the Rangers took with the No. 2 overall pick in last summer’s draft, but the premise also applies to other youngsters such as Filip Chytil, 20, who was the Rangers’ second first-round pick in 2017.
Kakko and Chytil played together on the third line for the last 15 games leading into the All-Star break — they were joined by 21-year-old Brett Howden for the last 11 — and that line was one of the most impressive for the Rangers even though the trio didn’t score much.
“They’re kids, so they get frustrated because they don’t get the goal or the assist,’’ Quinn said. “We certainly want them to want to score, but I think they’re starting to understand that a good shift is spending time in the offensive zone . . . I think they’re starting to understand, ‘OK, it’s a hard league to score in, so you’re going to have some nights where you play well and you may not be rewarded on the stat sheet.’ ’’
In the last 11 games, Chytil had two goals and two assists, Howden had two goals and one assist and Kakko had one goal and one assist. But the numbers don’t reflect the effectiveness of Chytil, who spent all of last season with the Rangers but started this season in the minor leagues. He said he gets what Quinn is talking about.
“I think it’s true,’’ Chytil said. “Every detail we do on the ice, we’re trying to talk about it. And it’s always when we do some good detail in the first shift, a shot on goal or . . . even some good battles that we win, it brings confidence to the game for us and it goes up. We are smart. We just have to figure it out, because we’re young.
“A couple of years ago, we just played different hockey than the NHL — we had a lot of points, we scored a lot of goals,’’ he said. “So now it’s a little different hockey. We are in the best league in the world, so we have to get to the details and don’t focus just on scoring goals and making points, because we’re young. We want to produce, but we have to play the right way and play for the team.’’
Kakko, who made a last-minute decision to go home to Finland during the All-Star break, seemed to be in a better state of mind entering the break than he had been at earlier points in the season.
After scoring 22 goals in 45 games in the Finnish pro league last season, he has managed only seven in 44 games with the Rangers this season. He is pointless in his last eight games and has only a goal and an assist (both coming in the Jan. 2 loss to Calgary) in his past 16.
And yet everyone could see he has been playing well for the last few games. He played so well in Tuesday’s 4-2 loss to the Islanders in the final game before the break, in fact, that he was moved up to the first line with Mika Zibanejad and Chris Kreider in the third period.
“I am feeling good,’’ Kakko said recently when asked about playing well but not scoring. “Our first and second line, they are scoring goals all the time. So that’s good for us. And of course, our line, we want to score goals, because me, Howden and Chytil, we can score goals. I’ll feel even better when we score a couple goals . . . but right now, we are playing good, and that’s good for us.’’
Quinn said he has spoken to Kakko and has used the Carolina Hurricanes’ Andrei Svechnikov as an example of how things can be for a teenager from Europe playing in his first NHL season.
Svechnikov, who is Russian, was the second overall pick in the 2018 draft and scored 20 goals as a rookie last season. But it wasn’t until the second half of the season when he picked things up, and Quinn thinks Kakko can have a similar trajectory.
Lundqvist enjoys long break
After taking part in the last two All-Star Games, Henrik Lundqvist was looking forward to a nice long break this year.
This has been a difficult season for the 37-year-old goaltender, who has seen his ice time reduced because of the rise of two young Russians, Alexandar Georgiev and Igor Shesterkin.
Lundqvist, who has a 9-10-3 record, a 3.18 goals-against average and a .907 save percentage, has played only one of the last eight games.
A five-time All-Star, Lundqvist seemed grateful for the unusually long break.
“Of course, every year, you want to play at a level where you’re considered,’’ he said. “But that hasn’t been the case this year.
“It’s going to be different to have such a long break,’’ he said. “I mean, it’s been the Olympics a few years, it’s been All-Star Games, but . . . I think this year this break is a good time for me to kind of just take a deep breath and recharge.
“It’s been, mentally, pretty challenging.’’
Lundqvist’s plans were to go to an island with his family and some friends, lie on a beach and get away from it all.
The Rangers will return to practice on Thursday and play Detroit at the Garden on Friday night.