Kaapo Kakko of the Rangers skates in the first period...

Kaapo Kakko of the Rangers skates in the first period against the Flames at Madison Square Garden on Feb. 12. Credit: Jim McIsaac

Six days after general manager Chris Drury promised he was already at work trying to improve the roster in hopes of chasing the Stanley Cup again next season, the Rangers announced Thursday they have re-signed forward Kaapo Kakko to a one-year contract extension that an industry source said is the 23-year-old restricted free agent’s qualifying offer, of $2.4 million.

Kakko, the No. 2 overall pick in the 2019 NHL Draft, became the first of three restricted free agents to re-sign with the club, with defensemen Ryan Lindgren and Braden Schneider the others. Kakko was probably the easiest to clear off the board, however, given that he had little negotiating leverage after a disappointing season in which he failed to seize the opportunity of becoming the team’s first-line right wing. At one point, he was a healthy scratch for a game in the Eastern Conference final.

Kakko, who spent the first 11 games of the season with first-line center Mika Zibanejad and left wing Chris Kreider before coach Peter Laviolette dropped him to the third line, acknowledged at Breakup Day that he’d had a fair chance to play among the top-six forwards, but it didn’t work out. In 222 minutes, 49 seconds together, the Kreider-Zibanejad-Kakko line scored just five goals, while allowing two, according to the analytics website Natural Stat Trick.

“If you're playing those minutes, you have to score some goals,’’ Kakko said. “And I feel that line, we never scored that much. So I can't say I didn't get the chance with those guys.’’

A knee injury in late November caused him to miss 21 games, and Kakko ended up with 13 goals and 19 points in 61 games in his fifth NHL season. His name was mentioned prominently in trade rumors before the deadline, but Drury held on to the young Finn, who had one goal and one assist and was a minus-4 in 15 playoff games. He was a healthy scratch, in favor of rookie Matt Rempe, in Game 2 of the conference final against Florida.

Re-signing Kakko doesn’t necessarily mean the Rangers will keep him going into training camp. He could still be traded as the team tries to upgrade the roster to make up the gap on Florida, which will be the team to beat in the Eastern Conference next season and held a 2-0 lead over the Edmonton Oilers going into Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Final Thursday in Edmonton. After the signing, the Rangers have $9.2 million available under the $88 million salary cap for next season, according to CapFriendly.

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