The Rangers’ Kaapo Kakko, the 18-year-old who was the second overall pick in the 2019 draft, found himself on the fourth line to start Friday night’s game against Buffalo. But by the end of the game, Kakko was out of the doghouse. He had an assist on a goal by Chris Kreider, and coach David Quinn threw him on the ice as one of the six skaters at the end as the Rangers frantically tried to get the tying goal in their 3-2 loss to the Sabres.
“His play wasn’t what we needed it to be, and he knows that,’’ Quinn said. “There were guys I thought who were playing better than him at the time, but I thought he did a good job throughout the game playing better and better as the game went on.
“I just thought he had a real good night. He played with a lot of energy, he had an edge to his game, played with some confidence. I liked his approach.’’
At the morning skate, Quinn seemed almost annoyed by a question about Kakko.
“He definitely looks more confident with the puck, for sure,’’ Quinn had said. “There’s definitely more swagger to him without the puck — I’m underlining ‘without the puck.’ As most 18-year-olds need to continue to learn, this game, especially here, is a lot different than over in Europe.’’
Quinn went on to repeat the comparison he’s made between Kakko and Carolina’s Andrei Svechnikov, who was the No. 2 pick overall in 2018. Svechnikov didn’t do much the first half of his rookie season, either, Quinn said, but turned it around in time to finish with 20 goals and 37 points.
Notes & quotes: Igor Shesterkin was scratched as the third goalie, but Quinn made no other changes to the lineup from Wednesday. Phillip DiGiuseppe played his third straight game . . . Artemi Panarin had one goal in his previous six games and no goals in his previous three. He had only one assist in those three games. He assisted on Mika Zibanejad’s goal.