Rangers fans remember the elation of being awarded the second pick in the 2019 draft, as it was pretty cut and dry that Kaapo Kakko would be the prize for the lottery luck. A year later, we were over the moon yet again as the Rangers were granted the top pick in the 2020 draft. Number one prospect, Alexis Lafreniere, had been touted as a generational talent, setting records in his QMJHL career with the same team that developed future hall of famer and three time Stanley Cup winner, Sidney Crosby. These kids have a ton of hype to live up to, not to mention the pressure of playing for the most valuable franchise in the league in the world’s most famous city. With 2022 around the corner, however, they haven’t quite done that yet. Don’t be alarmed though, blue shirts nation. They have an important role to play in the success of this team and they’re doing it well this year.
It’s no secret that the Rangers have serious depth on the wings. If that wasn’t the case, Pavel Buchnevich wouldn’t have been flipped for a checking forward (an elite one, at that) and a second round pick. The top six group is crowded with talented wingers, so it was always going to be a battle for Kakko and Lafreniere to find significant ice time in that role. Historically speaking, though, many successful teams, particularly championship contenders, were able to ride the transition from veteran core to youth movement all the way to a Stanley Cup. The Rangers veterans just happen to have a lot more left in the tank than other examples of this phenomenon. Artemi Panarin has established himself as a top 3 winger in the league. Chris Kreider is on pace for a career year in goal scoring. These guys are more than capable of leading the way in the playoffs. More importantly, they serve as perfect role models for the young wingers of the team, particularly Kakko and Laffy, as they gain their footing at the highest level of the sport. Having players as talented as them in the middle six is a great “problem” to have, if that’s what you want to call it. I look at it as more of an ideal situation.
The Rangers just had their best run of 24 games in franchise history. 17 wins later, they have the best points percentage in the league going in to tonight’s games on December 8th. Obviously it would be great if our top draft picks were setting the league on fire. They just aren’t ready to do that yet though, and in the mean time, they are making extremely serviceable middle six forwards. Kakko has even been with the top line for a couple of stints and has had some great looks. The stats will come with experience as the Rangers begin to lean more and more on the kids in the coming years. In the meantime, they can round out the defensive part of their games and the offense will follow.
All I’m trying to say here guys, things are good, the Rangers are winning games. Let’s not start to worry about the kids, they’re alright.