Hartnett: Quinn Needs To Establish 'Clear Direction' For Young Rangers Forwards

Sean Hartnett
October 21, 2019 - 2:16 pm

The Rangers need to establish a clear direction because right now, it’s very confusing to watch head coach David Quinn frantically rearrange his forward lines and underuse promising youngsters.

If development is the organizational priority and Quinn isn’t under immediate pressure to win now, his usage of Kaapo Kakko, Lias Andersson and Pavel Buchnevich is a real head-scratcher.

Kakko was limited to 13:45 of total ice time in Sunday’s 3-2 defeat to the Vancouver Canucks. The bulk of his minutes came alongside Brett Howden and Brendan Lemieux. Only Andersson, Brendan Smith and Micheal Haley saw less total ice time than Kakko.

The Rangers were fortunate that Kakko fell into their lap after the NHL Draft Lottery awarded the Blueshirts the second overall pick. Anything less than harnessing his full potential will be viewed as a failure.

To ensure Kakko succeeds, Quinn must pair him with a playmaking center and stick with it. Lately, Quinn experimented with Chris Kreider in an unfamiliar right wing role on the top line. It’s an awkward fit that needs to end.

Quinn has stated that he’s considered moving Kakko to the first line alongside Mika Zibanejad and Artemi Panarin.

With all due respect coach, just do it already. Play your three most skilled forwards together and give them an uninterrupted run of games to strike up some chemistry. Forget yo-yoing Kakko across the lineup and abandon idea of tough love through demotions and benchings.

What Kakko needs is a defined role and he doesn’t need to be looking over his shoulder in fear that an on-ice mistake will lead to less ice time or a ride on the pine. Star rookies need leeway to play to their strengths without their natural tendencies coached out of them or their confidence crushed by a series of benchings.

Quinn will be in a perilous situation if he mishandles Kakko. Franchise players are hard to find and coaches are replaceable. There’s no shortage of coaches with more distinguished résumés that would relish the opportunity to work with Kakko, Panarin, Zibanejad, Buchnevich, Trouba and company.

Coaching in the NHL is a results-oriented business. If Quinn fails to develop the Rangers’ high-ceiling youngsters, there’s no question that his position is going to come under scrutiny.

Buchnevich’s treatment on Sunday was unusual. After scoring a power play goal in Friday’s loss to the Washington Capitals, the 24-year-old wing skated for just 11 seconds on the power play against the Canucks. Brendan Lemieux, who has zero career power play points, was handed 2:08 of man-advantage ice time.

Andersson, meanwhile, began Sunday’s contest with a 33-year-old enforcer in Haley and a defenseman-turned-wing in Smith as his linemates. Through six games, Andersson has been largely glued to the fourth line and not been given opportunities with highly skilled teammates. His zero points are a product of the lack of skill around him, rather than any shortcomings in his own game.

Despite a lack of traditional stats in his favor, Andersson’s play has been strong throughout the young season and he deserves to be rewarded with a promotion. It would be unfair to expect a former seventh overall pick to flourish when he’s surrounded by offensively limited linemates.

Quinn needs to navigate carefully to ensure his future at The Garden. There’s a lot at stake here for both organization and coach.

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