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Back from injury, Kaapo Kakko makes instant impact on Rangers’ top-line

It hasn’t taken long for Kaapo Kakko to provide a spark since returning to the Rangers’ lineup.

The former first-round pick, who was on injured reserve since late November due to a lower-body injury, has made big plays on New York’s top line during his first two games back.

After generating a handful of scoring chances in his first game this weekend against the Capitals, Kakko was able to find the back of the net in Tuesday’s 5-2 win over the Seattle Kraken.

Minutes after Blake Wheeler’s first of two goals on the night, the young winger found some open ice and fired home a one-timer off some slick passing from linemates Chris Kreider and Mika Zibanejad.

While it's only been two games, Kakko has certainly caught the attention of his teammates and coaches with his strong play.

“It’s good to have him back,” head coach Peter Laviolette said postgame. “It’s tough to jump back in when you’re drawing top defenders playing on a line with Mika and Chris, but he’s played well. He had a good first game and it was nice to get him on the board tonight and feeling that.”

“I think his face said it all coming in for the hug,” Zibanejad joked. “He’s been positive throughout the process and he’s excited to be back and playing again. He wants to contribute offensively and he was able to do that tonight, so I’m really happy for him.”

Kakko is certainly looking to pick things up offensively after the frustrating start to the season he had.

The youngster began the year playing top minutes alongside Kreider and Zibanejad, but after producing just three points over the first 11 games, he was demoted to the bottom six.

Kakko saw his ice time reduced and he failed to get out his funk prior to the injury, but now that he's back healthy and has a renewed confidence, the 22-year-old is hoping things will go differently. 

"It just didn’t work out in the beginning of the season,” he said. "I don’t think I played well and I didn’t like those games at all. But I got some time off to work out and think about my game and I’m back now and hopefully better than before.

"It just feels really good to be back out there with the guys. I was a little tired last game but felt better tonight. Our line played well last game and now we got to score a couple of goals today, which always helps."

A healthy and producing Kakko would provide a huge boost for the Rangers, who have seen their lead in the Metropolitan Division trimmed to just four points.