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Kaapo Kakko fitting in well on Artemi Panarin and Ryan Strome's line

The Rangers celebrate a second period goal by

The Rangers celebrate a second period goal by Kaapo Kakko, right, against the Bruins in a preseason game at Madison Square Garden on September 28, 2021. Credit: Getty Images/Bruce Bennett

If one preseason game is enough to make meaningful judgments, it looks like Kaapo Kakko should fit in just fine on that Artemi Panarin-Ryan Strome line.

The threesome looked to be in midseason form in the Rangers’ second preseason game Tuesday, a 3-2 win over a Boston Bruins team minus most of its big-name players at Madison Square Garden. Panarin especially appeared ready for the season to start, assisting on the first two goals, and then scoring the winner on a breakaway at 19:00 of the second period.

"Yeah, it feels like he's always ready,’’ Kakko said of Panarin.

The 20-year-old Kakko, entering his third NHL season, had a good game himself, though, scoring the Rangers' second goal and getting a secondary assist on the first goal, scored by Anthony Bitetto. Kakko finished the game a plus-3, and he also got 1:58 of his 17:09 ice time on the penalty kill. His shorthanded time was third-most of any forward.

"The last couple seasons I didn't play [on the penalty kill] at all, so that was a little new for me,’’ Kakko said. "But I think we played well over there. And I'm happy about that."

New Rangers coach Gerard Gallant said after the game that Kakko may be in line to get some time on the shorthanded unit this season. Aside from Mika Zibanejad, Kevin Rooney and newcomer Barclay Goodrow, the Rangers don’t have a ton of guys who did a lot of penalty killing last season. Pavel Buchnevich, who was second to Zibanejad in shorthanded ice time among forwards last season, was traded to St. Louis in the summer.

Gallant talked Tuesday about how former Columbus and Rangers forward Rick Nash entered the NHL as a goal-scorer but started killing penalties in his second or third season and became good at it. The most important thing a penalty-killing forward must have are good instincts, Gallant said. And most highly skilled players have those, he said.

"They’ve got good sticks, they’ve got good hand-eye coordination, and they read plays real well,’’ Gallant said. "So, it's the same thing offensively. You’ve just got to pay the price a little bit more defensively.’’

Of course, Kakko’s primary value to the team will still be expected to come at the offensive end of the ice. The 6-3 Finn said this week he spent most of the summer in the gym, working to get stronger. And he gained some weight, bumping up to 205 pounds after playing at 199 last season. His plan, while playing with Panarin and Strome, is to crash the net more, he said. He did that on his goal, getting rewarded when Panarin’s shot was deflected and he was able to backhand in the rebound to make it 2-0.

Panarin and Strome haven’t had a steady right wing on their line since Jesper Fast left before last season. Kakko played there some last season, but now he is looking to claim that spot permanently.

Panarin was asked what he and Strome need from their next right wing.

"A good one-timer,’’ he said.

Kakko has been working on that, also.

Notes & quotes: The Rangers assigned forward Justin Richards to AHL Hartford, leaving 41 players in camp.

New York Sports