Kaapo Kakko #24 of the Rangers celebrates his first period goal...

Kaapo Kakko #24 of the Rangers celebrates his first period goal against the Montreal Canadiens at Madison Square Garden on Tuesday, Nov. 16, 2021 in New York City. Credit: Jim McIsaac

The Rangers wrapped up their final bit of business for the summer Thursday when they announced they have signed right wing Kaapo Kakko to a two-year contract. Kakko, 21, was the team’s lone remaining unsigned restricted free agent, and according to CapFriendly, his deal carries a salary cap hit of $2.1 million each season with a base salary of $1.8 million in 2022-23 and $2.4 million in 2023-24.

With a roster of 13 forwards – projecting 2018 first-round pick Vitali Kravtsov makes the team over Julien Gauthier – five defensemen and two goaltenders, the team has a projected payroll of roughly $80.51 million, per CapFriendly. That would leave just under $2 million to fit in a sixth and seventh defenseman.

With the 6-3, 205-pound Kakko under contract, coach Gerard Gallant can start projecting line combinations he may want to look at once training camp opens Sept. 20. Kakko, the No. 2 overall pick in the 2019 draft, likely will start out on one of the top two lines, either on the right wing of the top line with center Mika Zibanejad and left wing Chris Kreider or on the presumed second line with left wing Artemi Panarin and free agent acquisition Vincent Trocheck.

The bigger question will be whether Alexis Lafrenière, the No. 1 pick overall in 2020, will switch from his natural left wing position to fill the other right wing spot in the top two lines. With Panarin and Kreider ahead of him at left wing, Lafrenière would presumably need to switch to the right side to get into the top six forwards.

If he doesn’t, then perhaps Sammy Blais or Barclay Goodrow would take the other top two right wing spot with Lafrenière, Filip Chytil and Kravtsov comprising a potent third line.

There is, though, an outside chance Gallant could move either Kreider or Panarin to the right and play both of them on either side of Zibanejad on a stacked first line. That would then open the possibility of keeping together the Kid Line of Lafrenière, Chytil and Kakko, which was so effective in the playoffs.

If that is how the top two lines are configured, it would leave Trocheck, who signed a seven-year, $39.375 million deal this summer, to play on the third line, presumably with Goodrow and either Kravtsov or Blais.

Kakko, limited by a broken wrist, played 43 games for the Rangers in 2021-22, scoring seven goals and 11 assists. He had two goals and three assists in 19 playoff games before getting scratched for the final game of the Eastern Conference Final against the Tampa Bay Lightning. He has 26 goals and 32 assists in 157 games in three seasons with the Rangers.

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