How the Kids became the Rangers’ Best Line

Alexis Lafrenière, Filip Chytil, and Kaapo Kakko celebrate a goal
Photo Credit: Justin Berl / ESPN

After strong showings against the Florida Panthers, the Vegas Golden Knights, and the Toronto Maple Leafs, the reunited ‘Kid-Line’ have thus far lived up to their expectations. They struggled to produce much of anything when they were put together earlier in the season. The second go around could not be more different, as now they are playing some of their best hockey together. This comes after Kakko’s stint on the top line with Zibanejad and Kreider and Lafrenière’s stint with Zibanejad and Kakko, which jolted both players’ confidence.

It has been seven games since being reunited, and the ‘Kid line’ (although now they could be called the Boyz 2 Men line) looks more robust than ever. There is an argument that they could be called the team’s second line based on how they have consistently performed night in and night out. In their last seven games, the group has an expected goals percentage of 53.67% (per NaturalStatTrick) and scored 12 goals. Seven of those goals came from Filip Chytil, who loves to score in bunches, but that doesn’t take away from the work of the rest of the line. As time has passed, each member of the line looks more and more comfortable, and their prolonged success as a unit has been remarkable to watch.

Kakko is finding his groove

The ‘B’ word (bust) has floated around Kakko’s name since his disappointing start to his career, but that label is finally wearing off. This season, Kakko has taken an extra step in his game – even if it’s not showing up on the scoresheet. His puck possession abilities are a marvel to watch. He’s able to make the little passes and stickhandles around the opposition conveys an extra level of confidence, and he is finally being rewarded for his hard work.

It was like he finally found his spot when he played with Mika Zibanejad and Chris Kreider shortly before the lineup changes. He has played his best hockey next to those two, and that duo has, in turn, made Kakko a better player. This is encapsulated best by his assist on Chris Kreider’s goal against the Florida Panthers on January 1st. With a little bit of patience and extra precision, he can get the puck to Kreider right in front of the net.

Since Kakko has returned to Chytil and Lafrenière, he has been equally as good. He has netted eight assists and two goals in his last nine games with his new linemates, being above a point per game for the first time in his career. He’s also reached new career highs in points, assists, and goals. While he has yet to challenge Jack Hughes, who has become an undisputed star in the league, Kakko’s emergence into the player we thought he would be when he got drafted brings a sigh of relief and excitement for Rangers fans and management alike.

Filip Chytil is too good right now

While Kakko has been good under the radar, Filip Chytil has been spectacular. He’s playing with unrivaled confidence, and every time he gets the puck, you feel like something good is about to happen. He’s scoring goals he should be scoring, yes, but he’s also getting the bounces a young player needs to gain that confidence. Goals are simply going in for Chytil, but he has the play to back it up too.

Chytil drives the play on any line he plays on. It doesn’t matter who he plays with or where he plays in the lineup. Chytil is going to play his heart out. He’s found success with third-line minutes and different linemates, showing that Fil the thrill is determined to play well and earn his success. That kind of player who has the amount of skill that he does is very hard to come by, and the Rangers know this – which is why they are trying to ink him to an extension. The 23-year-old is playing the best hockey of his career, and the statistics back this up.

Chytil has 11 goals and 16 points in his last 15 games, and this incredible play has earned him a promotion to the top power play unit. His ability to score in bunches is a marvel to watch. He has been looking hungry for the puck on every shift he plays. He wants to score, he wants to put the puck in the net, and when he doesn’t have the puck, he wants to get it. Chytil has also been defensively sound as well, meaning his 2-way ability is a welcome addition to this Rangers’ squad.

In the last month or so, since the Rangers played the Lightning on December 29th, Chytil has put up a negative game score only once (versus Carolina). Game scores are collected from HockeyStatCards, a rating system that weighs on-ice performance and includes expected goals. The fact that Chytil has been positive for more than a month is awe-inspiring and shows that he’s not just getting lucky – Filip Chytil is a star in the making.

Is Alexis Lafrenière finally getting it?

After having an up-and-down start to the season, there was a lot of concern with Alexis Lafrenière’s play and production. He is a player whose confidence was shot, got scratched for a game, then suddenly got a spot on the top line for a few games, and has seemingly changed his season around despite not registering a point. In contrast, on that line, since the Rangers played the Boston Bruins (where Lafrenière registered an assist on the Rangers’ only goal), Lafrenière has looked good.

A confident Lafrenière is a scary threat to play against. He’s been diligently backchecking, been strong on the forecheck, and is starting to make the little plays that you would expect from a first-overall pick. A confident Laf makes the plays one needs to make to benefit him and his linemates. He’s setting up his teammates with excellent passes and isn’t phoning it in. Just last game versus the top-ranked in the Metro division Carolina Hurricanes, he set up Chytil for two incredible high-danger chances and had an assist on Kakko’s empty net goal.

To answer the question, “Is Lafrenière finally getting it,” the short answer is yes. Even though he’s had some rough moments during this season, such as being scratched for a game due to his play, he has persevered through adversity. This is really good for a young player to go through hardship and come out on top. Lafrienière has 8 points in his last eight games, and we can finally say he is putting it all together. He looks like a 1st overall pick, and more than that, he looks like the type of player who is excited to play hockey.

Boyz 2 Men

This Rangers squad is possibly one of the deepest they have ever had since acquiring Vladimir Tarasenko on Tuesday. They can now run four good lines that produce consistently, but it is hard to understate the significance of the Kids producing at higher levels. The Rangers’ success and 6-0-1 record in their last seven games is in no small part due to the emergence of these players.

They have been the Rangers’ strongest, most consistent line over these last seven or so games. Every time they get the puck, they move it forward and create an odd-man rush or a scoring opportunity. When they hit the ice, you know they are about to make a play that creates a chance or a shot on goal. That type of trust in that line is something that Rangers’ fans have been craving since all three players were drafted, and their patience has finally been rewarded.

The implication of their success will be a conversation that has to be had in the coming months. Both Chytil and Lafrenière are increasing their production, making it hard to keep them both for cheap contracts, especially with the emergence of another kid, K’Andre Miller. But for now, let’s enjoy these youngsters’ success and ride this wave of positivity into a first-round playoff matchup against the New Jersey Devils.

In this week's episode, we have on guest HockeyStatMiner to discuss NYR's Salary cap situation, potential moves and more.How to support us and our sponsors:Columbia Sports ApparelESPN+ SubscriptionFanaticsDraft Kings – CODE ITRThanks for listening! Please rate and review our show on your favorite listening platform. Check out our partner's website at www.insidetherink.com for all your latest hockey news.
  1. Guest HockeyStatMiner
  2. Many Directions, One Goal
  3. A Heartbreaking End, Offseason Begins
  4. Game 5 Recap : Guest Joe Fortunato
  5. Game 4 Recap : Breakout Breakdown

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