Kaapo Kakko is set to return to the Rangers’ lineup for Saturday’s matchup against the Devils after missing the past six games due to a bout with COVID-19.
The 20-year-old winger was placed on the COVID-19 protocol list for the second time this season on Feb. 20. After registering a false positive during his first brief stint on the list (he missed the Feb. 1 game), Kakko revealed Friday he did contract the coronavirus and that’s why his absence was much longer this time around.
Kakko said following practice that he was “sick a little bit, but not too bad.”
“I think it’s a little bit hard [to get back into game shape],” he added. “I was on the ice with the team [Thursday] and [Friday], so sometimes it takes time but feeling good right now.”
After Kakko practiced with the Rangers for the first time during the morning skate ahead of Thursday’s 6-1 win over the Devils, head coach David Quinn said he was still going through the return-to-play protocol and wasn’t eligible to compete.
With another game in Newark scheduled for Saturday night, Kakko is expected to slot right back onto the second line next to Chris Kreider and Ryan Strome. Before being placed on the COVID-19 protocol list, Kakko had flanked Strome with 2020 top-overall pick Alexis Lafreniere. But with Lafreniere’s promotion to the top line, Kreider will likely be on the left wing now.
Kakko, Strome and Kreider have only logged 3:51 of ice time together, according to Natural Stat Trick. Kreider’s current hot streak of two hat tricks in the past five games, however, should allow Kakko to ease back into the swing of things.
In his last five games before going on the coronavirus protocol list, Kakko was generating a ton of shots on goal and logging more than 17 minutes of ice time each night.
“Yeah, I played well before [going on the list] and I think just try to play like that,” Kakko said. “I think it’s coming, just try to keep [playing] the same way. That’s it.”