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Rangers GM Jeff Gorton Signs Trouba and Kakko to New Contracts

The NHL off-season is winding down and every GM is making sure all of their key players are signed up to short-term or long-term deals. The New York Rangers front office has been as busy as any NHL team, signing the recently acquired defenseman Jacob Trouba and Kaapo Kakko, their # 2 overall draft pick, to new contracts.

The 19-year-old Fin was the second-overall pick for many reasons, most of which is what he accomplished playing for Finland. In just one year from April of 2018 to May of 2019, Kakko became the youngest player to win Gold in the IIHF U18 tournament, the IIHF World Junior Championship and the IIHF World Championship. Connor McDavid previously was the youngest player to win Gold in all three tournaments.

Kakko has also had success playing in the Finnish Elite League, the SM-Liiga. The 19-year-old skated in 45 games in the SM-Liiga and scored 22 goals and 16 assists, for a total of 38 points. His 38 points were the third-most by a U18 player in SM-Liiga history behind two current NHL players, Aleksandr Barkov and Mikael Granlund. However, most importantly, Kakko has played excellently in the playoffs for club and country. He played in 5 playoff games in the SM-Liiga and scored four goals and had one assist. In the IIHF World Championships Kakko scored six goals and four assists in ten games and helped Finland take home the Gold Medal.

Although he is very young, Kakko performed well at the World Championships for Finland and seems to be ready to play in the NHL. It remains to be seen what he can do in the NHL next year, but Rangers fans should have high hopes for this year’s #2 overall pick.

The Rangers signed Jacob Trouba to a seven-year deal worth $56 million on Friday. Trouba is now the Rangers’ third-highest-paid player behind Artemi Panarin and Henrik Lundqvist. The 25-year-old Trouba had his best season in the NHL last year. Trouba set career-highs in goals, assists, and points last year. Trouba’s 42 assists were tied for ninth among NHL defensemen, with two of the NHL’s best offensive d-men, Erik Karlsson and Victor Hedman. He scored 18 of his 50 points on the power play. Trouba had never shown such scoring ability until last season, but now that he is on the Rangers he could play more minutes on the power play and have a chance to exceed what he did last year.

Both Trouba and Kakko will play key minutes for Head Coach David Quinn next year and hopefully for years to come. Kakko could become one of the Rangers top-six forwards next year, as well as 19-year-old left-wing Vitali Kravstov. They are power-forwards who are both 6’2” and over and will add size to this group of Rangers forwards.

As for the Blueshirt blue-line, Jacob Trouba and Brady Skjei look like the Rangers best defenseman coming in to next season. Trouba scored 15 points on the power play last year for the Winnipeg and should be able to bring the Rangers some scoring from the blue-line. Head Coach David Quinn could play Skjei and Trouba together or split them up and have a deeper more balanced defense. If I were Coach Quinn, I would have them play on separate lines, because I think it will make whoever plays with them better. Ranger defensemen who could play with either Skjei or Trouba on the first defensive pairing would be Kevin Shattenkirk, Marc Staal, and Anthony DeAngelo.

Besides Trouba and Kakko, the Rangers GM Jeff Gorton has been very busy signing prospects. Gorton signed goaltending prospect Igor Shesterkin, Vitali Kravstov, and Kakko to their first professional contracts. The Rangers GM Jeff Gorton should be applauded for signing one of the NHL’s best free agents in Artemi Panarin and keeping him from signing with the Rangers’ rivals, the Islanders. If Panarin had signed with the Islanders, and joined Matt Barzal and Anders Lee on a first line, the Islanders first line would be a nightmare for all Metropolitan teams to deal with.

The Rangers GM will have to figure out how to cut some salary, after the Trouba contract brought the Blueshirts over their $81.5 million salary cap. The Rangers traded Jimmy Vesey to Buffalo, which cleared $2.275 million and gave the Rangers some cap-room to pursue Artemi Panarin and Jacob Trouba. Gorton can fix this salary-cap problem by letting Brendan Smith clear waivers and head down to Hartford, then the Rangers would save $1.25 million. They could think about whether to trade Chris Kreider or Vlad Namestnikov, who both earn $ 4 million dollars next year. Kreider has been one of the team’s biggest contributors over the past few years and trading him would be unpopular with the fanbase, so let’s hope the Rangers find another way to correct their cap issues. Namestnikov is a good player, but he would not be as big a loss as Kreider. The Rangers could trade him for some good young players or draft picks.

In about a month the Rangers rebuild has gone into hyper-speed. Panarin and Trouba are in their prime and going to have good seasons next year, yet the question is will Kakko and Kravstov be as good as we the fans think they can be next year, or will it take a while for them to develop their game at the NHL level? I believe that Kakko, more than Kravstov, has shown that he can play in the NHL, because he has put up great stats in the SM-Liiga and at the World Championships. Kravstov has not proven as much as Kakko has at this point, but that could all change come next season. Rangers fans should expect more from their team next season, and I know that I am very excited to see this team play next year.

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Anthony has been a sportswriter at In The Zone since Sept. 2019. He graduated from Montclair State, where he was assistant Editor of the student newspaper's sports section. He also co-hosts a sports-themed radio show on the campus station, WMSC 90.3 FM, which was recently named #1 college radio station in the nation.
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