Kaapo Kakko opens eyes on Rangers’ penalty kill unit
BOSTON — Kaapo Kakko didn’t log any time on the penalty kill last season, but the 20-year-old looks like he’ll see some shorthanded minutes this year.
The 20-year-old Fin saw 1:38 of shorthanded ice time in the Rangers’ 4-3 overtime win against the Bruins on Saturday night at TD Garden. Boston went 1-for-4 on the power play, with David Pastrnak notching the Bruins’ man-advantage tally in the first period, taking advantage of Libor Hajek’s interference penalty. Kakko, who at one point finessed a shorthanded scoring chance that was saved, was not on the ice for Pastrnak’s goal and finished a plus-two on the night.
“I was honestly really impressed with him last year, how well he was defensively,” penalty-killing staple Kevin Rooney said of Kakko on Saturday night. “He’s got such a good stick, he’s very smart, so he can definitely be a huge asset for us on the penalty kill, if that’s where they’re going to put him. If we’re together, that would be awesome.
“He’s a heck of a hockey player and he’s really grown over the last couple of years since he’s entered the league.”
The Rangers’ penalty-killing units have continued to take shape as the preseason has progressed. The first PK unit on the ice Saturday was Kakko, Morgan Barron, Ryan Lindgren and Nils Lundkvist. While Barron isn’t a lock to make the team and Lundkvist is still getting acclimated to the North American game, Lindgren will likely carry a heavy penalty-killing load. It’s safe to assume Jacob Trouba and Patrick Nemeth will also often be used on the PK.
Amid the departure of Pavel Buchnevich and Brett Howden, the Rangers lost two of their top-four penalty killers. General manager Chris Drury did bring in Barclay Goodrow to fill some of the void. Mika Zibanejad and Kevin Rooney, as well as Ryan Strome, will also likely see some penalty-killing time as well.
Head coach Gerard Gallant said Adam Fox will compete on the PK “in certain situations,” noting that he doesn’t want to overwork the Rangers’ No. 1 defenseman. Alexis Lafreniere, Filip Chytil, Vitali Kravtsov and Sammy Blais have also gotten some penalty-killing minutes during preseason.
“Good instincts,” Gallant said earlier in training camp of what he looks for in a penalty killer. “To me, most highly talented skilled players can kill penalties. Not a whole lot of them go out there and do that, but a lot of those guys, they’ve got good sticks, they’ve got good hand-eye coordination and they read plays real well. It’s the same thing offensively, you’ve just got to pay the price a little bit more defensively.”
The Rangers trimmed their training camp roster to 27 on Sunday. Will Cuylle was assigned to the Ontario Hockey League’s Windsor Spitfires, while Matthew Robertson, Braden Schneider, Lauri Pajuniemi, Tyler Wall, and Adam Huska were sent down to AHL Hartford.
Mason Geertsen was placed on waivers for the purpose of assigning him to AHL Hartford, but the Devils claimed the 6-foot-4 heavyweight.
The Rangers’ next preseason matchup is on Wednesday against the Devils at Madison Square Garden.