Kakko, Andersson and Hajek get new numbers, Gorton explains the tough decisions


On what he referred to as “one of the toughest days in hockey,” Rangers GM Jeff Gorton explained why the team made the decisions they did to reporters.

Referencing the light schedule they have early on, it was a factor. However, he also made good points about what would be best for the development of Filip Chytil, Vitali Kravtsov and Ryan Lindgren. The latter two who probably could’ve made the 22-man roster.

Following hosting Winnipeg on October 3 this Thursday, the Blueshirts visit the Senators on Saturday night. That’s the first two games over three days. They then don’t play again until the following Saturday on Oct. 12 against the Oilers at home. Then they’re off for four days until the much anticipated first meeting at the Hudson rival Devils that’ll hopefully feature a battle between second pick Kaapo Kakko and top pick Jack Hughes in Newark on 10/17.

The schedule finally picks up with a back-to-back the following night at the Capitals. The Canucks visit New York City for a rare 1 PM matinee on football Sunday, Oct. 20. That’s three games in four days.

Gorton indicated that after internal discussions, the organization felt it was best for Chytil to go play his natural center position at Hartford. It certainly is something the 20-year old needs to work on if he’s to eventually become the player they think he can be.

He also felt that even though Kravtsov showed off some of his promising skill, he wasn’t guaranteed top minutes due to the current alignment. What’s the point of having the 19-year old on the roster right away if there could be some games where he only plays six to seven minutes a night? That’s basically what I tried to explain. He can get top line and power play duty while adjusting to the North American style. Don’t forget he played on the bigger ice surface in the KHL. As did expected Wolf Pack starting goalie Igor Shesterkin.

Lindgren could easily have made the roster. His strong play throughout camp including the physical edge he had against a full Islanders roster, impressed the Rangers staff. However, Gorton liked the flexibility veteran Brendan Smith brings due to being able to come in as either a defenseman or a energizing forward, which he became familiar with under coach David Quinn. Smith had a good camp and got rewarded.

In terms of putting veteran center Micheal Haley on the team for the purpose of signing him to a two-way contract, Gorton made sure to point out the element Haley can bring into the lineup. He can change the momentum of a game with a big hit or fight. He also is a solid forechecker, which explains why San Jose had him twice.

Even though the game is going away from that physical style, you still need those high character guys around to help inject life. Especially on a young roster with only a handful of vets who are actually over 30. I would liken Haley’s role to that of everyone’s favorite, Tanner Glass, who now works in the organization. Those good team guys are infectious.

I really liked how honestly Gorton answered each reporter’s questions. You can tell he gets it. He understands the unique situation they’re in. When pressed on Kakko, he didn’t hesitate to say that Kaapo can help this team right away and also was sick. He emphasized what he did in practice. You still saw it in some shifts where he had the puck like a magnet with defenders chasing him around the net. An area he’s most dangerous. Wait until it starts up for real.

On the cooler side, there are some new numbers for Kakko, Lias Andersson and Libor Hajek. Each will get to debut those numbers on Thursday night.

As expected, Kakko goes from 45 to his more familiar 24 that he wore in Finland. Andersson took number 28. That’ll take some getting used to. He’s not gonna remind anyone of Tie Domi. However, it sure beats wearing 50. He’s excited to be here after earning the third line center role.

They also spoke to Hajek, who indicated that he didn’t know if he would make the team after having seven months off due to his shoulder. He did note that the number change had to do with what he wore in the Czech Republic and for Saskatoon in the WHL.

As for Adam Fox, he said he liked 23. So, he’s keeping it. When asked sarcastically about number 18, he mentioned that it wasn’t available.

That’ll do it for now. Coming up next. The Rangers Season Preview. Stay tuned.

About Derek Felix

Derek Felix is sports blogger whose previous experience included separate stints at ESPN as a stat researcher for NHL and WNBA telecasts. The Staten Island native also interned for or hockey historian Stan Fischler and worked behind the scenes for MSG as a production assistant on New Jersey Devil telecasts. An avid New York sports fan who enjoys covering events, writing, concerts, movies and the outdoors, Derek has covered consecutive Staten Island Yankees NY Penn League championships in '05 and '06. He also scored Berkeley Carroll high school basketball games from '06-14 and provided an outlet for the Park Slope school's student athletes. Hitting Back gives them the publicity they deserve. In his free time, he also attends Ranger games and is a loyal St. John's alum with a sports management degree. The Battle Of New York administrator and chief editor can be followed below on Twitter and Facebook.
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