EDMONTON, Alberta — Aside from goalie Igor Shesterkin and defenseman Adam Fox, one could argue that despite the Rangers’ 6-2-2 record, a lot of guys on the roster need to play better.
That would include forwards Mika Zibanejad and Artemi Panarin, who had scored two goals each before the Rangers visited the Edmonton Oilers at Rogers Place on Friday night in the third game of their four-game road trip.
But perhaps the most surprising stat line on the roster was that of third-year forward Kaapo Kakko, the No. 2 overall pick in the 2019 NHL Draft. Through his first six games entering Friday, he had yet to record a goal or an assist.
Rangers coach Gerard Gallant, speaking at the team’s optional morning skate Friday, insisted he wasn’t bothered at all by Kakko’s 0-0-0 stat line.
"He’s coming back after that injury [an upper-body issue that put him on injured reserve last month],’’ Gallant said. "He missed four games. And he’s played good hockey. He hasn’t got a goal or assist yet, but he’s played good hockey for us. He competes every game. He’s getting better. He’s a good young player.’’
Kakko, 20, expressed frustration Friday at his lack of scoring.
"Last couple games our line, we don’t have like many scoring chances,’’ he said. "I think our power play has been playing good, but yeah, I’m still waiting for that first point. I think after that, [I’ll be] feeling better, and I think I can play better after that.’’
Gallant said he likes the way Kakko has played. He’s talked about how the 6-3, 205-pound winger is solid defensively and holds possession of the puck in the offensive zone. And he said all he wants of Kakko is that he "go play, have fun [and] get better every day.’’
"He’s just a kid and he’s playing well, and I’m happy with the way he’s playing,’’ Gallant said. "I don’t put expectations [of scoring] on my players. Go out there and play and try and win a hockey game. That’s what our goal is every day. No matter if it’s a Kaapo or Panarin or whoever you want to talk about.’’
Since the first day of training camp, Kakko has been the right wing on the second line, with Panarin and Ryan Strome. When asked Friday if he is worried about whether he can mesh with those two, who have established a great chemistry with each other during the past three years, Kakko paused.
"Yeah, like you said, those guys [have been] playing together a long time,’’ he said. "And yeah, I think there’s been like good games. I think the last couple games have been not that good for us. But hopefully I can play better and our line will play better.’’
Strome said Kakko just needs to score a goal and everything will fall into place.
"It’s probably in the back of his mind,’’ he said. "I know how that feels. I think once he gets one, he’ll get a little confidence, a little more jump in his step. Because I know when you look at that [zero points] every day, probably it weighs on you.
"He’s matured a lot. He’s a little more equipped to deal with the ups and downs. And I think it’s just a matter of getting some confidence, and we want to get him shooting more. The goals will come if he keeps working hard, and he puts the work in every day. He does all the right things. So hopefully he can get going. We need him.’’