David Quinn

Rangers’ Kakko showing his potential, swagger

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Imagine being told at age 18 that you have landed the job of your dreams.

The only caveats: it would be more than 4,000 miles from your hometown and the cultural and language differences are substantial.

For Rangers forward Kaapo Kakko, this was the reality he faced after the New York Rangers selected him second overall in the 2019 NHL Draft.

With three goals and a shootout tally over the past two games, Kakko is starting to acclimate to his new surroundings.

“There is just a whole new level of swagger to him that I hadn’t seen since he got here,” Rangers coach David Quinn said. “Not only on the ice, but off the ice. There is a comfort level that he is attaining, and you could see it in his face. There is a lot more smiling and a lot more swagger.”

Kakko never doubted his hockey ability but needed time to familiarize himself with a new lifestyle in a new city before his on-ice skills could match the lofty expectations that came with his premium draft position.

The challenges facing young professional athletes from overseas are often overlooked, yet quite extensive when put in perspective.

“He works so hard, it’s not easy coming over here as an 18-year-old and not speaking the language,” Chris Kreider, a former Rangers’ first-round pick, said of Kakko. “When I was 18, I was struggling to play college hockey. I was a little homesick and I was 45 minutes away from home.”

Teammate Brendan Lemieux spent two seasons with the Winnipeg Jets before being traded to the Rangers and saw firsthand how Patrik Laine also made the transition from being a teenager in Finland to playing in the NHL. Laine, 21, also had heavy expectations from the start after being selected second overall in 2016..

“He’s (Kakko) smarter than 99 percent of young, skilled hockey players that I have ever played it with,” Lemieux said. “He has figured out already, which takes a lot of guys five or six years, that simplicity can lead to offense. It’s pretty incredible to see and he is fun to play with.”

New York’s top line center Mika Zibanejad has been dealing with a neck injury but should return to action in the coming weeks, which will alter the makeup of the Rangers’ forward combinations. Kakko has excelled on the Rangers’ third line in recent games, but is he ready for a more prominent role?

“He’s not going to be intimidated from any other challenge that is presented to him,” Quinn said. “I’m not worried about moving him up [the lineup].”

Whether he moves up in the depth chart now or continues to work his way up throughout the season, Kakko is quickly becoming one of New York’s most dynamic players.

“I think he’s continuing to build on his confidence level,” Quinn said. “He has certainly proven that he can have success this year in the National Hockey League, that’s for sure.”

Scott Charles is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @ScottMCharles.

Wednesday Night Hockey: Lundqvist in uncharted territory with Rangers

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NBCSN’s coverage of the 2019-20 NHL season continues with the Wednesday Night Hockey matchup between the Detroit Red Wings and New York Rangers. Coverage begins at 7 p.m. ET on NBCSN. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

Henrik Lundqvist will find himself in unfamiliar territory when the Rangers face the Red Wings on Wednesday Night Hockey.

The 37-year-old goaltender will start for the first time since being pulled after two periods against the Boston Bruins last week. Alexandar Georgiev has guarded the crease the previous three games and continues to push for more ice time with steady play between the pipes.

Lundqvist has allowed 16 goals in his previous five starts and has picked up only one victory over that span.

“This is all part of the big picture,” Rangers coach David Quinn said before Monday’s game against Ottawa when he announced Georgiev would play his third in a row. “Managing the amount of games Hank is going to play. I know it may be a big deal that he hasn’t played in three in a row, but when the dust settles and 82 games finish, Hank is going to play a lot of hockey for us.”

Quinn will never disrespect one of the most accomplished players in franchise history, especially in a public forum, but his job is to guide the Rangers in the right direction and keep one eye on the future.

Despite a hiccup against the Senators on Monday, which had more to do with the skaters than the goaltending, Georgiev has picked up where he left off last season. The 23-year-old has established himself as a trustworthy backup but still needs to prove he can handle a larger workload to be considered a future starting goalie.

Another factor in the future goaltending equation is Igor Shesterkin. A 2014 fourth-round pick, Shesterkin has emerged as one of the organization’s top prospects and is off to a terrific start in the American Hockey League in his first season in North America. The 23-year-old Russian was named AHL goaltender of the month for October when he posted a 5-1-0 record coupled with a sparkling 1.49 goals against average.

[COVERAGE BEGINS AT 7 P.M. ET ON NBCSN]

With a prized prospect sitting in Hartford waiting for an opportunity and a promising backup pushing for more playing time, the question has to be asked how much should Lundqvist play?

Quinn has already made one tough decision when he benched Marc Staal against the Lightning last week and in the two subsequent games, marking the first time the alternate captain was a healthy scratch in his 13-year career with New York.

“Every now and then, it doesn’t hurt to sit out,” Quinn said of the decision to scratch Staal. “I know people have a hard time with it, they don’t like hearing it, and I don’t want anyone to enjoy it. But it was something I felt was needed.”

With a new era of Rangers hockey on the horizon, Quinn and the front office will be forced to make several painful choices as new talent continues to emerge.

If Lundqvist and Staal want to continue to don the Rangers sweater, they’ll need to earn their roster spots over and over again with each opportunity. It might not be fair for two players that have been part of one of the most successful periods in the organization’s history, but that’s the sandbox these two signed up to play in when they became NHL players.

Liam McHugh will host Wednesday’s coverage on NHL Live alongside analysts Jeremy Roenick and Keith Jones and NHL insider Darren Dreger. Mike Emrick, Eddie Olczyk and Brian Boucher will call Red Wings-Rangers from Madison Square Garden in New York, N.Y.

NBC Sports will premiere “The Russian Five” documentary, a feature on the first five Russians to play hockey together in the NHL, Wednesday, November 6, following Wednesday Night Hockey between the Red Wings and Rangers. The documentary tells the story of how Sergei Fedorov, Slava Fetisov, Vladimir Konstantinov, Slava Kozlov, and Igor Larionov were able to defect from their homeland and transform the Detroit Red Wings into perennial contenders and back-to-back Stanley Cup Champions in 1996-97 and 1997-98.

Scott Charles is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @ScottMCharles.

Rangers point to power play struggles after loss to Devils

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The Rangers were ecstatic to get back on the ice after a four-day hiatus from game action, but the result was not what they had in mind.

Jack Hughes recorded his first point, P.K. Subban netted his first goal for the Devils and New Jersey snapped several droughts in its 5-2 victory over the Rangers on Thursday.

Tony DeAngelo and Jesper Fast both scored while Alexandar Georgiev made 33 saves in the Rangers’ second consecutive loss.

Rangers power play woes

The Rangers will need their power play to fire on all cylinders if they expect to contend for a playoff spot this season.

Over the past two games, the Rangers have failed on 10 consecutive man-advantage opportunities, including six missed chances against the Devils.

“That’s probably as sluggish as we looked on the power play all year,” Rangers coach David Quinn said. “You can’t alter your approach when you don’t score a goal. You can build momentum off a good power play if you don’t score. I just thought we started getting away from the things we have been doing during the exhibition season and the three games we played.”

Seemingly, the momentum can swing the other way, too. The Rangers’ power play failures began to pile up through the course of 60 minutes.

“As the game goes on, the more chances there are, the more the opponent knows what you are trying to do,” defenseman Jacob Trouba said after playing over seven minutes on the PP. It almost gets a little tougher as the game goes on and you have that many power plays.”

Four games and a handful of opportunities provide a small sample size in terms of power play production. But, without consistent offensive production on special teams, the Rangers are going to struggle to win games.

DeAngelo aims to carve out role

DeAngelo notched his first goal of the season to open the scoring at 6:02 of the first period. The offensive-minded defenseman sensed a scoring opportunity and cashed in on the rebound.

This past summer, DeAngelo was forced to sign a one-year contract due to lack of leverage during negotiations. The 23-year-old began the season knowing he would have to prove himself on a daily basis.

A right-handed defenseman with the ability to move the puck and potential to run a power play is a sought-after commodity in the NHL. Teams are often scrambling to fill that need or rearranging other pieces throughout their lineup to cover up an obvious hole.

However, DeAngelo is on a team that has multiple options at the position due to a busy summer. The Rangers acquired Jacob Trouba and added another offensive-minded defenseman in Adam Fox, essentially filling the role DeAngelo was supposed to play.

But the Rangers are doing their part to give DeAngelo an opportunity to dress consistently. In order to make it work, Brendan Smith has been playing as a fourth line forward to give the backend an extra penalty killer.

For DeAngelo, a goal is a step in the right direction, but he will need to continue to demonstrate to David Quinn and the coaching staff that he is worthy of a spot in the Rangers everyday lineup.

Strange schedule

In a game built off rhythm and tendencies, the Rangers have had to overcome a few strange schedule quirks to open up the 2019-20 NHL season.

The Blueshirts have only played in four games over the past 16 days and have had trouble fine-tuning the specific nuances of the sport.

“We have to understand situational hockey. The good news is we get to play more hockey and understand it better, Quinn said. “It’s tough to emulate it in practice. We are going to be able to draw from what happened today and be better for it tomorrow.”

It is not often a team looks forward to a back-to-back, but the Rangers are eager to play with more regularity. On Friday, they play against the Washington Capitals before beginning a five-game homestand.

“We want to play hockey games, it’s the only way you can really get better in this league,” Quinn said.

MORE: Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV Schedule

Scott Charles is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @ScottMCharles.

Taylor Hall’s hit on Rangers’ Fox

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There are a lot of new faces for the New York Rangers and New Jersey Devils during Thursday’s game on NBCSN (stream here), but you can still expect some of the vitriol from these divisional rivals.

The second period featured a somewhat controversial moment, as Taylor Hall was whistled for a two-minute interference penalty after a hard hit on Rangers defenseman Adam Fox. Fox left the ice for some time — perhaps only to go through concussion protocol, maybe if there’s some lingering issues — while Hall received just a minor penalty.

Well, the “just” part is a matter of opinion. During an interview on the bench with NBCSN’s Pierre McGuire, Rangers head coach David Quinn said that he believes that Hall should have received a five-minute major for the hit.

You can watch replays of that hit in the video above the post’s headline and decide for yourself: is Quinn right, or was a minor penalty the right call? Or should there have been no penalty at all?

Either way, the Devils lead the Rangers 3-1 heading into the third period.

MORE:
• Pro Hockey Talk’s Stanley Cup picks.
• Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV schedule

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Can Henrik Lundqvist bounce back for Rangers?

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Each day in the month of August we’ll be examining a different NHL team — from looking back at last season to discussing a player under pressure to identifying X-factors to asking questions about the future. Today we look at the New York Rangers.

Let’s tackle three questions for the Rangers in 2019-20 …

1. How will the new guys fit in (and how many new guys will fit in)?

Don’t blame head coach David Quinn if he uses phrases like “learning process” a lot next season, as there are a ton of new faces in New York, including players who figure to be top scorers and minute-eaters.

It’s not just about getting the most from Artemi Panarin and Jacob Trouba. Really, it’s not even about integrating likely rookie impact-makers like Kaapo Kakko and Adam Fox.

The Rangers must also decide if prospects like Vitali Kravtsov will make the team out of training camp, and if they’ll stay long enough to eat up a year of their rookie contracts. Quinn must decide if players like Lias Andersson are ready to take another step forward.

From a forwards and defense level, this is a very different-looking team, something that was cemented by the Kevin Shattenkirk buyout. As far as chemistry experiments go, the Rangers are basically mad science.

[MORE: 2018-19 Review | Under Pressure | X-factor]

2. Is Henrik Lundqvist washed up?

If you had to choose one Ranger to forget all about last season, it would be Lundqvist.

The Rangers’ defense was abysmal in 2018-19, and Lundqvist buckled under the pressure of trying to carry that sorry bunch, suffering through a season where he had a very un-Hank-like .907 save percentage.

When you look a little deeper at the numbers, you’ll see that his 2018-19 season wasn’t that far from normal, or maybe a “new normal.” Via Hockey Reference, you can see that his even-strength save percentage has been nearly identical for the last three seasons, as it was .919 in both 2018-19 and 2017-18 and .918 in 2016-17.

Before that, prime Lundqvist was regularly beyond .930 at even-strength, and so frequently above .920 overall that you almost set your watch to his elite play.

Considering that he’s 37, maybe the window for his elite play has finally closed, but maybe Lundqvist can squeeze out one or two more great years? Let’s not forget that Lundqvist wasn’t exactly protected in Alain Vigneault’s latter years with the Rangers, as those teams were often horrendous from a possession standpoint.

If Quinn can create more of cocoon for Lundqvist (and Alexandar Georgiev), might the Rangers improve at keeping pucks out of their own net? Even with Panarin leading a big boost in offensive punch, you’d think they’d need a lot more than they got from their goalies last season, Swiss cheese defense and all.

3. Will the playoff picture be an open road or treacherous path?

The Rangers aren’t the only team in their division that should be tough to gauge once prediction time rolls around, making it difficult to tell if the Metro will compare to what was a mighty Atlantic Division last season.

The Devils are just about as wildly different as the Rangers, and the Flyers made bold moves in their own right.

It’s easiest to imagine the Rangers falling in the wild-card range, so a lot may hinge on how other teams perform, both in the Metro and Atlantic Divisions. If the Panthers and Sabres take big strides — as they’re paying to do — then the Atlantic teams could gobble up as many as five playoff spots, forcing the Rangers to break into the top three of the Metro. That might be asking too much, so the Rangers have to hope for a little bit of a buffer when it comes to the playoff bubble.

(You know, unless they end up being far better or far worse than expected.)

MORE:
• ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker
• Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV schedule

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.