Rangers move Kaapo Kakko to top line

With only 19 goals in seven games and a five-game losing streak heading into Thursday night, the New York Rangers are doing some line shuffling against the Buffalo Sabres in an effort to kickstart their offense.

The most notable change will see prized rookie and No. 2 overall pick Kaapo Kakko move to the top line where he will play alongside Mika Zibanejad and Chris Kreider.

Artemi Panarin, the team’s big offseason acquisition and one of the few players on the team actually providing some offense this season, will play on the second line next to Ryan Strome and Pavel Buchnevich.

For Kakko, the Rangers are obviously hoping that getting him next to Zibanejad, the team’s leading offensive player since the start of last season, will give him a confidence boost and get him going offensively. He has been off to a slow start with just one goal, one assist, and only 11 shots on goal in his first seven games (and five of those shots came in just one game).

He has been extremely hard on himself this week, voicing frustration with his play to a Finnish news outlet and then doubling down on it with Rangers reporters on Wednesday, saying “I’m playing bad hockey” via the New York Post.

Now he gets a chance to break out of that funk next to the Rangers’ No. 1 center for the first time in his career.

“I mean, forget it, you see Mika Zibanejad as your center, you’re automatically getting a whole new level of confidence,” said Rangers coach David Quinn on Thursday, via the Rangers’ website. “So (Kakko) is in a much better position mentally when he sees that Mika Zibanejad is his center and Chris Kreider is his left wing.”

After starting the season with back-to-back wins (and scoring 10 goals in those games) everything has kind of fallen apart for the Rangers offensively since then. They have not scored more than two goals in a game since Oct. 5 (their second game of the year) and their next four games present quite a daunting list of opponents, starting with the 8-1-1 Sabres on Thursday. After that they play Boston and Tampa Bay at home before going on the road to play the Nashville Predators.

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

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