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Laviolette will give Lafreniere, Kakko opportunities to be 'counted on more'

Codie McLachlan / Getty Images Sport / Getty

Freshly hired New York Rangers head coach Peter Laviolette wants to put a little more on Alexis Lafreniere's and Kaapo Kakko's plates next season.

"Those young players do need an opportunity to grow," he said during his introductory press conference on Tuesday. "They have to be ... given the opportunity to be counted on more. ... They want to feel valued with what they do."

He added, "You certainly would like to see them take the next step: More minutes, maybe a little higher up the lineup, maybe more power-play time. With that, there has to be opportunity. These conversations will take place - I certainly would like that - and those opportunities will be there for them to grab that ice time and to push."

The Rangers selected Kakko with the second overall pick in 2019 and drafted Lafreniere with the No. 1 pick in 2020. They have yet to live up to the lofty expectations placed upon them in the Big Apple, but both players enjoyed career campaigns in 2022-23 while spending the bulk of their time on the third line with Filip Chytil.

Lafreniere, 21, put up a career-best 39 points (16 goals, 23 assists) in 81 contests while seeing his average ice time eclipse the 15-minute mark for the first time. Kakko, 22, netted a career-high 18 goals and 40 points while skating in all 82 games, but he saw his average playing time decrease slightly from 2021-22.

Neither player saw much time on the man advantage this campaign, with Lafreniere averaging 1:23 minutes of power-play time per contest - good for seventh-most among all Rangers forwards - and Kakko clocking in at 53 seconds.

When Patrick Kane arrived on the scene in March, Kakko had his average power-play ice time plummet to just 21 seconds.

Overall, Laviolette is pleased with the Rangers' mix of veterans and young players.

"I think it's a really good balance and blend right now," he said. "Teams in the past that I've found success with, I think they've had that balance and that blend."

The Rangers have $11.76 million in projected cap space this summer. Veteran forwards Vladimir Tarasenko and Kane can become unrestricted agents on July 1.

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