With an average age of 26.3 years, the New York Rangers are the second-youngest team in the NHL. That group of talented young phenoms benefits greatly from the shortened season given to us by COVID-19.
When the NHL season was officially halted, the Rangers had played 70 of their 82 games on the season. That mark had already set the career highs for a few of the young Blueshirts and was close to the high points of several others.
Rookie defenseman Adam Fox had never skated in more than 42 games in a single season at Harvard. Second-year forward Brett Howden’s career-high before this season was 68 games played with the Moose Jaw Warriors. Ryan Lindgren’s high before this season was 65 games split between Hartford and New York. Even defenseman Tony DeAngelo set his NHL high for games played this season with 68.
Rookie winger Kaapo Kakko played 81 games last season for TPS, and Finland’s international teams, a grueling amount for an 18-year-old. That total could be why Kakko has been fatigued through the early parts of the season, but the 66 games he has suited up in for the Rangers this year is the most for any single team in his young career.
When you see the youth and lack of experience that the Rangers boast on their roster, extended rest and video sessions can only benefit the young players. Fox, Kakko, Howden, Lindgren, and even Filip Chytil all now have time to rest and mature; both mentally and physically.
As players gain experience both on the ice and off through their NHL careers, they learn to prepare their bodies for the grind of an 82-game season that will hopefully include more during the playoffs. However, the young Rangers players have not had time to develop their routines and training programs and therefore will greatly benefit from this extended rest.
Due to their inconsistent start to the season, the 22 games since the All-Star break carried heavier implications than your prototypical regular-season game, since each carried must-win desperation the Rangers needed to play with in order to push for the playoffs.
The grueling nature of having to show up night in and night out for a third of the season is a new experience for all of the youngsters on the roster.
Players such as Filip Chytil, Brett Howden, and Tony DeAngelo did not play in many meaningful games during their debut campaigns, and despite holding their own thus far, they have to be feeling some ill-effects from the ultra-competitive gameplay.
Rookies Adam Fox and Kaapo Kakko have shown their abilities throughout the season, and this time off will only help them be fully prepared to improve their play next year. Rest is not a new factor to the 2019-2020 Rangers squad, as it has benefitted them this season.
The Blueshirts are 10-6-1 when they have two or more days off this season, a statistic that can directly be correlated with the extra days of tutelage and relaxation that the young players have. Even more telling of how the younger Rangers perform when they have rest is their point totals over those 17 games.
Leading the group was DeAngelo with 17 points (2 goals, 15 assists), following him was Fox with 10 points (1 goal, 9 assists), then Kakko (4 goals, 4 assists), then Chytil (3 goals, 4 assists), and lastly Howden (2 goals, 2 assists).
Remarkably eight of Kakko’s 23 points came during the 17 games after rest, showing how effective he was when his body was rested, however slight that rest may have been. Kakko will benefit more than any other Ranger from the rest as his hectic draft year definitely led the 19-year-old to fatigue this season.
The Rangers overhaul of youth will continue to expand into 2020-2021 season when highly touted prospect K’Andre Miller looks to become a mainstay on defense. The exuberance and energy he plays with will surely fade over the course of his first professional season, and as we have seen with this year’s rookies, rest will play a key role in his development.
As unfortunate as missing out on the chaotic end of the NHL’s season may be, Rangers fans should take a step back and realize that this break is a blessing in disguise for those Blueshirts who are paving their way to becoming the faces of the franchise.