Kaapo Kakko could be out until all-star break

TARRYTOWN — The New York Rangers will play five games over the next nine days, and they may not have Kaapo Kakko for any of them.

The 20-year-old forward warmed up with the team ahead of Saturday’s 7-3 win over the Arizona Coyotes, but was ruled out late with an upper-body injury which, according to head coach Gerard Gallant, “had been going on for a little while.”

“Kaapo is not going to play a bit here,” Gallant added after Monday morning’s practice at the MSG Training Center. “He works week to week.”

Given this information, the prudent decision would probably be to let Kakko rest his injury until the extended All-Star hiatus is over.

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Starting Feb. 2, Rangers will have two weeks off for what was supposed to be an Olympic break. The NHL ultimately ruled its players out of the Beijing Winter Games due to ongoing COVID-19 concerns, and as the Rangers made it through the first half of the season with limited disruption to their schedule. , they will have plenty of rest time.

After next Tuesday’s home game against the Florida Panthers, they won’t play again until February 15. Don’t be surprised if Kakko doesn’t come back by then.

The No. 2 overall pick in the 2019 draft had gone cold as he posted just one point in his last five games, with the nagging injury a possible factor. For the season, he posted 14 points (five goals and nine assists) in 37 games. But while point production has been disappointing, Kakko has shown growth in his all-around game while leading the team with a 51.52% xGF, according to Evolving Hockey. The Rangers allow just 1.47 goals against per 60 minutes with him on the ice at even strength, which leads all of their players who have appeared in at least 10 games.

The Blueshirts will also be without forward Filip Chytil for Monday’s 7 p.m. game against the Los Angeles Kings at Madison Square Garden, but Gallant described his injury as less serious while calling it “day to day.”

Chytil injured his lower body late in the first period of Saturday’s game and did not come out for the second. In his absence, Rangers were forced to roll with 11 forwards.

According to Gallant, coming away with 11 is an option he is considering against LA. This would allow him to carry an extra defender in Libor Hájek, as he hinted that one of his regular D-men was “bumped”.

“All three lines worked pretty well the other night (in) this rotation,” he added. “You can’t do that all year. Obviously you’ll tire your players. So short-term stuff.”

If he chooses an odd number of forwards, the plan would be to rely heavily on the front nine while having Kevin Rooney bounce back as a center for the third and fourth lines.

“You just have to be ready for anything,” said Mika Zibanejad.

In this case, the plan would probably be for Zibanejad to center a high-level line between Chris Kreider and Artemi Panarin. Gallant made the decision to round up his top three forwards after Chytil’s injury against the Coyotes, the result being a comeback win and a hat trick for Kreider.

“He didn’t say much,” Zibanejad said. “He just put us together, and it was up to us to go play. I thought it worked pretty well. It was maybe a bit different for (Panarin) playing on the right side, but I thought it was working. Obviously we also had another striker less, with Fil absent. We just really had to make the most of this situation.

November 21, 2021;  New York, New York, United States;  New York Rangers left wing Artemi Panarin (10) talks to left wing Chris Kreider (20) and center Mika Zibanejad (93) during the first period against the Buffalo Sabers at Madison Square Garden .

Kreider, Panarin and Zibanejad have played just 47:04 together this season, according to Natural Stat Trick, generating an impressive 58.97% xGF over that span. Even more telling is the chance to score at high danger. This trio created 11, while only allowing two.

“You never say no to that,” Zibanejad said with a smile. “I don’t think me or the Kreids have to change anything. We’re three very different players and we just have to take advantage of each other’s strengths. That’s what we did last game, and I hope that we can continue like this.”

These three have combined for 127 points this season, Panarin registering 43 while Kreider and Zibanejad each have 42. Gallant has generally preferred to spread the wealth across his entire roster, but they are easily Rangers’ most dynamic forwards and could cause headaches for kings as a unit.

Kreider, in particular, was just named the NHL’s first star of the week and is tied with Washington’s Alex Ovechkin for the most goals in the league at 29. .”

“I just think this year he’s played to his strengths a lot more,” he added. “He’s a lot more consistent too. I feel like it’s weird to say – what is he? He’s 31? – but even at that age I feel he’s getting better. He might not (score) the coolest goals or the ones you see on Instagram or YouTube and all that. But what he does, he does better than anybody. He’s really very proud. Everything he’s doing right now is really well deserved for the work he puts in and everything he’s done over the years.”

Projected NY Rangers roster: Game 43 vs. LA Kings

When: Monday, January 24 at 7 p.m.

Or: Madison Square Garden

TV/Radio: MSG+/1050AM

Attackers

First line → Chris Kreider (LW) • Mika Zibanejad (C) • Artemi Panarin (RW)

Second line → Alexis Lafrenière (LW) • Ryan Strome (C) • Barclay Goodrow (AD)

Third line → Dryden Hunt (LW) • Kevin Rooney (C) • Julien Gauthier (RW)

Fourth line → Greg McKegg (LW) • Ryan Reaves (RW)

Defense

top pair → Ryan Lindgren (L) • Adam Fox (R)

second pair → K’Andre Miller (L) • Jacob Trouba (R)

Third pair → Patrik Nemeth (L) • Braden Schneider (R)

Seventh Defender → Libor Hajek

Goalkeepers

Entrance → Igor Shesterkin

Backup → Alexander Georgiev

Healthy scratches: Morgan Barron (F)

Injured: Sammy Blais (right ACL), Filip Chytil (lower body) and Kaapo Kakko (upper body)

NOTE: This range is subject to change

Vincent Z. Mercogliano is the New York Rangers reporter for the USA TODAY Network. Learn more about his work at lohud.com/sports/rangers/ and follow him on Twitter @vzmercogliano.

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