The Rangers’ Kid Line has had a few different configurations this season. It started last month, with 19-year-old Alexis Lafreniere, the No. 1 pick overall in the 2020 NHL draft, playing with 20-year-old Kaapo Kakko, No. 2 overall in 2019, and 21-year-old Filip Chytil, the second of the Rangers’ two first round picks in 2017.
When Kakko got moved up to play with Artemi Panarin and Ryan Strome, the second version of the Kid Line saw 23-year-old Julien Gauthier, another first-round pick (by Carolina, in 2016) take Kakko’s place. And on Saturday in Buffalo, there was a third version, with newcomer (and 2018 No. 9 overall pick) Vitali Kravtsov, 21, replacing Gauthier.
Finally, when the Rangers hosted the Pittsburgh Penguins on Tuesday in the first of two games between the teams at Madison Square Garden, the original Kid Line was back together, with Kakko back on the right of Lafreniere and Chytil.
"I'm expecting what they're capable of giving us,’’ Rangers coach David Quinn said when asked before the game what he was looking for from the young trio. "I think Kaapo has really made some great strides; I really have liked Laffy's game the last two or three games, and Fil is starting to play better… So, we're curious to see how this looks.’’
Quinn had said on Monday the reason he dropped Kakko to the Kid Line – and subsequently dropped Kravtsov to the fourth line – had more to do with wanting to put Colin Blackwell up with Panarin and Strome than anything to do with Kakko. Blackwell, a veteran free-agent pickup who had played 33 NHL games over the last two seasons for Nashville, had nine goals and 13 points in 28 games entering Tuesday, and he seemed to fit nicely with Panarin and Strome before Kakko got put into his spot six games ago.
Quinn, who spoke to Kakko about the move on Monday, explained that he was looking for balance and chemistry on lines, which meant not necessarily putting the best players together on the top lines. Dropping Kakko (five goals, two assists in 29 games entering Tuesday) down to the third line, the coach reasoned, would likely get him away from playing against top-six forwards and top-four defensemen every shift.
But putting Kakko on the line could serve to lift Lafreniere, too. Advanced statistics suggest the best version of the Kid Line is the one with Kakko on it, as opposed to either the Gauthier or Kravtsov versions. And when Quinn was asked what Lafreniere needed to do to get some more ice time, he said Lafreniere not being on the power play right now is the reason his ice time is relatively low (10:05 for the five games before Tuesday). He hinted Lafreniere is poised for an increase in ice time.
"He and I had a conversation about that (Monday), about the direction of his game, and where it's going,’’ Quinn said of Lafreniere. "You want to reward him if he continues to play well. I anticipate if he continues to play the way has, he'll get rewarded, and those minutes will go up.’’
According to Natural Stat Trick, Lafreniere, Chytil and Kakko had been on ice together for 131:04 prior to Tuesday, and had generated 28 shots on goal for, versus 16 shots on goal against. They had been on for one goal for and none against.
Kakko and Chytil also have had chemistry with each other dating to last season. So far this year, the two have been together for 61:15 and generated 39 shots on goal. They have been on for two goals for, and one against, with Kakko scoring both goals.