All signs point to Kaapo Kakko returning to the Rangers lineup on Friday against the Blue Jackets at Madison Square Garden, following his four-game stint on injured reserve with an undisclosed upper-body injury that he suffered in the first period against the Canadiens on Oct. 16.
“Hopefully, pretty sure,” head coach Gerard Gallant said Thursday of Kakko playing on Friday. “But that’s not 100 percent. We got through today, and the medical staff will let me know in the morning. It looks good.”
Kakko has been a full participant in the past two practices, skating on the second line next to Artemi Panarin and Ryan Strome and on the second power-play unit alongside Alexis Lafreniere, Filip Chytil, Sammy Blais and Nils Lundkvist. The Finnish winger said he was feeling good after absorbing a big hit from Canadiens defenseman Alexander Romanov.
“I’m ready to play,” he said.
During his time on the sidelines, Kakko mentioned that he particularly watched the penalty-kill units to make corrections in his own game. He said it feels almost like a fresh start to the season and that he believes the points are coming.
“It’s different watching the games,” said Kakko, who has yet to register his first point of the season. “I don’t know, especially I was watching our PK, because I’m playing [on] it right now. I think I learned something about it and I think that’s the biggest thing.”
Ryan Reaves, who suffered a lower-body injury just under 3:30 into Monday’s loss, is still considered “day-to-day” and is doubtful to play against the Blue Jackets.
“I’m not saying he’s not going to play, but I’m doubtful for tomorrow,” Gallant said.
With Kakko’s return to the second line, Barclay Goodrow practiced on the left wing of the top unit next to center Mika Zibanejad on Thursday. The trio of Lafreniere, Chytil and Blais — who combined for five points (two goals, three assists) against the Predators last week — were reunited on the third line.
“We’re definitely considering it,” Gallant said. “I think on the road trip you saw they played really well together, with Laffy down there. If things are going perfect, you keep your four lines rolling, that’s the best news for a coach. Last game wasn’t good. I think Laffy, Chytil and Blaiser had real good success on the road in a couple of those games, so we might go back with that.”
In place of Reaves on the right wing of the fourth line, Greg McKegg stepped in next to Dryden Hunt and Kevin Rooney.
Chris Kreider had a maintenance day and did not participate in practice.