Rangers Bench Former 2019 No. 2 Pick In Bold Move

New York Rangers forward Matt Rempe played in Game 2 replacing Kaapo Kakko in the lineup.

Getty New York Rangers forward Matt Rempe played in Game 2 replacing Kaapo Kakko in the lineup.

After missing two games entirely and last playing in Game 5 of the second-round series against the Carolina Hurricanes, New York Rangers rookie Matt Rempe returned to the lineup for Game 2 of the Eastern Conference finals matchup against the Florida Panthers.

With Rempe in the lineup and following the Game 2 2-1 overtime win on Friday, May 24, the Rangers are 22-3 in regular-season and postseason matches in which the rookie has skated with his team.

That, however, came with the negative of head coach Peter Laviolette removing former 2019 No. 2 pick Kaapo Kakko from the Rangers lineup, making him a healthy scratch.

Laviolette hid his decision until the final moments before puck drop of Game 2. Kakko and Rempe skated on Friday morning with their teammates, but they stayed on the ice later meaning one (if not the two) of them would be scratched.

The decision to scratch Kakko, if only because of his first-round, No. 2 overall pedigree must not have been easy for Laviolette to make ahead of Game 2.

At the end of the day, New York’s Laviolette chose the rugged rookie instead of the former top draftee, and, judging by the result, the decision paid off.

Kaapo Kakko Gets Scratched in 2022-Fashion

This is Kakko’s first healthy scratch since former Rangers head coach Gerard Gallant left him out of Game 6 of the 2022 Eastern Conference Final matchup against the Tampa Bay Lightning. New York lost that game and the series 4-2, failing to reach the Stanley Cup Final.

Asked if he had thought about introducing Rempe or replacing Kakko among other lineup changes before Friday’s Game 2, coach Laviolette said that it would take his team more of a collective effort to beat Florida after the Game 1 loss, not just one individual change.

“You just look at the lineup and it’s not necessarily about if there’s a move or not a move,” Laviolette said on May 24 morning. “We’ve got to look at the bigger picture and look at getting better on the ice.”

Kakko had played in all 11 postseason games before Friday’s Game 2 against the Panthers. He had averaged 11:33 minutes of playing time per game, scoring 1 goal and providing 1 assist for a meager 2 points across more than 125 minutes on the ice.

Asked if the Rangers were “getting enough from Kakko,” Laviolette defended his line (the third one of the four the coach has used in the playoffs) before Game 4.

“I think the line has had good numbers,” Laviolette said before Game 2. “I’d like to see Kaapo generate more production. I’d also like to see (Alex) Wennberg generate more production, so I think as a line you can look for them to generate more.”

“I heard about the numbers,” Kakko said before Game 2, via Vince Mercogliano of USA Today. “Somebody told me, but I’m not looking at those.

“Hopefully, more goals are coming, but I’m still happy about our game.”

Rangers’ Matt Rempe Back After Missing 2 Games

Rempe returned to the lineup to play on the fourth line with Barclay Goodrow and Jimmy Vesey. Filip Chytil stayed in the Rangers lineup, making Kakko the healthy scratch of Game 2 in New York’s gameday squad.

The rookie center, who had not played in the last two Rangers games (Game 6 against Carolina, Game 1 against Florida) got 3:07 of playing time in the first period completing 3 hits and seeing the Rangers go 1-0 up in the scoreboard.

By the time the game reached the second intermission, Rempe had completed 6 hits. Vesey left the game halfway through the second frame with an upper-body injury and never returned. That forced Laviolette to use Rempe in the final stanza, a rare occurrence this postseason.

By the final horn, Rempe finished Game 2 with 9 hits, 1 faceoff win, and 1 blocked shot. On Friday, however, Rempe wasn’t delivering the huge hits but rather landing them (such as the one shown above by Panthers’ Dmitry Kulikov) and producing some valuable play for his team while on the ice.

Rempe also appeared in the overtime period before Barclay Goodrow scored the game-winning goal for the Rangers in their Game 2 2-1 win over Florida, according to NaturalStatTrick.

“Oh yeah. Goody’s that guy,” Rempe said about Goodrow’s OT goal. “Oh my gosh. That was unbelievable. That was an absolute snipe by him.”

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