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Mixed bag of results for Rangers' young players this season

New York Rangers goalie Alexandar Georgiev (40) makes

New York Rangers goalie Alexandar Georgiev (40) makes a save as Edmonton Oilers' Zach Hyman (18) and Jacob Trouba (8) battle in front of him during second-period NHL hockey game action in Edmonton, Alberta, Friday, Nov. 5, 2021. (Jason Franson/The Canadian Press via AP) Credit: AP/JASON FRANSON

CALGARY – After sitting out the first two games of the Rangers’ four-game road trip through the Pacific Northwest and Western Canada, rookie defenseman Nils Lundkvist was back in the lineup Friday night for the Blueshirts’ 6-5 overtime loss to the Oilers in Edmonton.

Lundkvist earned an assist early in the game on Filip Chytil’s goal that opened the scoring at 1:53 of the first period. It was Lundkvist’s second assist of the season and Chytil’s second goal. Chytil added an assist early in the second period on Kevin Rooney’s goal that made it 2-1, which began a run of three goal in 4:02 that gave the Rangers a 4-1 lead they ultimately couldn’t hold.

So, mostly, Friday was a good night for Chytil and Lundkvist. But on the season, it’s been a bit of a mixed bag for the Rangers’ young players, as a group. Lundkvist, 21, has been working to adapt to the smaller ice surface in his first season in North America, after arriving from Sweden, and it’s coming slowly. After his assist Friday, he had two assists in eight games and a plus/minus rating of even.

The other young players on the roster, though, who aren’t rookies, have had their own ups and downs.

Entering Saturday’s road trip finale in Calgary against the Flames, forward Alexis Lafreniere, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2020 draft, was buried on the fourth line, having played Friday in Edmonton with Greg McKegg and Dryden Hunt.

After the game – which the Rangers lost in frustrating fashion, when McDavid’s brilliant, goal-of-the-year candidate tied the score before Draisaitl won it in overtime – Rangers coach Gerard Gallant was asked about Lafreniere being on the fourth line. He didn’t like the question.

"I thought he was fine,’’ Gallant snapped. "Give the kid a break.’’

But it was Gallant who had singled the 20-year-old Lafreniere out multiple times in the past two weeks as needing to do more than he has. Since Lafreniere had three goals – including a team-high two game-winning goals – Gallant was asked at Friday’s morning skate what it was that Lafreniere needed to give more of.

"That’s between me and ‘Laffy,’’’ he said.

Meanwhile, Kaapo Kakko, the No. 2 overall pick in 2019 draft who missed four games with an upper-body injury, has played hard and responsibly on the second line with Artemi Panarin and Ryan Strome. But entering Saturday, he had no goals or assists through seven games.

Chytil, 22, has been up and down over his four-year NHL career, and Friday was his first real "up’’ game of the season. After Friday he had two goals and one assist, having played with a number of different linemates, from Vitali Kravtsov and Barclay Goodrow in the preseason, to Goodrow and Julien Gauthier, to Lafreniere and Sammy Blais, and Blais and Rooney on Friday.

K’Andre Miller, 21, hasn’t been having the strong season he had as a rookie in 2020-21, when he was named to the All-Rookie team. The 6-5, 210-pound defenseman entered Saturday with one assist in 11 games and a rating of minus-6, worst on the team.

Gallant has mostly been supportive of the young players. Kakko’s linemate, Strome, chalked up any of the youngsters’ struggles to normal growing pains. Ultimately, Strome said he thinks the youngsters will all be OK.

"I think they're doing good. They've just got to keep progressing,’’ Strome said. "There's a few guys in the world that do it at a young age, and light it up. And all the rest of us. I mean, myself, you go through a lot of growing pains, and you go through ups and downs. And it's just a matter of, you’ve got to keep on that upward trajectory.’’

New York Sports