Hartnett: Panarin, Kakko Will Provide Long-Term Benefits For Rangers

Sean Hartnett
September 12, 2019 - 1:31 pm
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The arrival of an exciting trio of forwards will energize the Rangers’ fan base and provide long-term benefits.

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Artemi Panarin was the biggest fish in free agency and spurned the possibility of more lucrative offers to play the next seven years at Madison Square Garden. The 27-year-old is unquestionably in the bracket of elite forwards, having been a 0.99 point-per-game player across four NHL seasons.

An 87-point player in his final season in Columbus, Panarin brings off the charts creativity, dazzling puck skills and surefire goal scoring to the Rangers’ lineup. The Rangers haven’t possessed an 80-point skater since Marian Gaborik recorded 86 points in 2009-10.

Panarin is a “go-to guy” in terms of possession-driving and shot attempts. His 54.52 shot attempt percentage (Corsi) ranks 24th overall among forwards to play in 150 or more games over the past four seasons.

Panarin will be joined on his opposite wing by a potential franchise player in the making, Kaapo Kakko. The Garden Faithful were desperate to see him don a Rangers sweater long before the Blueshirts received the second overall pick. One podcast host even founded a “Church of Kakko.”

The 18-year-old Finn combines pure strength, high-level skill and ceaseless effort. He excels at using his body to gain prime real estate near the net and thrives in tight areas. It kind of says it all when his graphic from the NHL Draft read — Room For Improvement: None.

Rangers head coach David Quinn could opt to roll a first line of Panarin, Kakko and 74-point center Mika Zibanejad. This high-ceiling trio would be incredibly hard to stop.

The hype surrounding Kakko has taken the spotlight off former ninth-overall pick Vitali Kravtsov. Selected in the 2018 NHL Draft, the 19-year-old is being touted as a potential top-six scoring wing. In addition to being a pure scorer, Kravtsov has earned praise for his high IQ play and he’s earned comparisons to Washington Capitals’ star Evgeny Kuznetsov and a younger version of James Neal.

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Fans will expect growth from fellow young forwards Pavel Buchnevich, Filip Chytil, Brett Howden, Lias Andersson and Brendan Lemieux. On Wednesday night, Lemieux agreed to a one-year deal to ensure his arrival for the start of training camp.

Veteran wing Chris Kreider is entering the final year of a four-year, $18.5 million contract and much debate has been had over his future. Eventually, the Rangers will need to decide whether to extend or trade the 52-point power forward.

The question is … do the Rangers believe the 28-year-old is deserving of a seven-year commitment possibly nearing $7 million per season?  

Jesper Fast and Vladislav Namestnikov are also pending 2020 unrestricted free agents. Lemieux, Ryan Strome and Boo Nieves are arbitration-eligible in 2020. Veteran forward Greg McKegg has been signed on a one-year deal. Fellow veteran Matt Beleskey has been sent directly to AHL Hartford and will not participate in training camp.

Follow Sean on Twitter: @HartnettHockey