Meet youngster Kaapo Kakko, the next great New York Rangers hope who can become a reality in the 2019 NHL Entry Draft.
It was announced last February with a letter. It began a month later with the departures of many of the team’s stalwarts. It progressed after the 2018 draft in Dallas with the additions of some promising prospects.
And with Steven McDonald’s good luck, it could be coming to an end sooner than expected.
On April 9, the state of the New York Rangers franchise was altered dramatically. Jeff Gorton and David Quinn were rewarded for not tanking and preaching their “play-to-win” mentality, as the Broadway Blueshirts landed the second overall pick in the 2019 NHL Entry Draft.
In many instances, finishing second in the draft lottery would be a major disappointment. While it’s great to have the opportunity to pick the second best player in the draft, there is often times a sizable gap between the top two players in the draft. Luckily for the Rangers, this year is different. They are going to add a generational talent with the second overall pick.
The 2019 draft class has a pair of studs. The expected first pick is Jack Hughes, an American prodigy, who I will discuss next week.
Not far behind Hughes though, is a Finnish superstar. It’s time to take a closer look at New York’s future savior: Kaapo Kakko.
Kaapo Kakko is an 18-year-old Finnish sniper. In 45 Liiga (the professional Finnish league) contests, the youngster notched 22 goals and 16 helpers. Kakko tallied more points (38) in his pre-draft season than Patrik Laine and Sebastian Aho, who are some of the other recent Finnish phenoms.
He also put up similar numbers to Aleksander Barkov and broke Barkov’s record by scoring the most goals by a Liiga player 18-years-old or younger.
Kakko projects to be the same caliber player if not higher than that of his two countrymen who were also second overall picks: Laine and Barkov. Kakko has a terrific shot, high-end vision, underrated speed and quickness, a high hockey IQ and tremendous strength.
Kakko’s rare combination of all of the aforementioned characteristics makes him one of the top forward prospects in recent memory. If you don’t believe me, you can see for yourself. Here are some Kakko clips that I’ve compiled (Kakko wears number 24).
Kaapo Kakko’s dekes and dangles are reminiscent of Mats Zuccarello. His elite offensive skill-set can be seen in his off-the-charts hands.
Kakko can even execute the between the legs toe-drag that Rick Nash often tried and repeatedly failed.
And there aren’t many guys that can pull off this move.
A pure goal-scorer
Kakko finds a way to beat goaltenders with his quick release and accurate wrist shot. He can score from anywhere and everywhere.
Here he shows his ability to beat goalies from distance off the rush.
He also displays excellent patience and an ability to beat a goalie while in tight. Kakko does an excellent job waiting an extra second before shooting the puck, which allows him to evade the defender and open up the five-hole.
A valuable addition to the power-play
We all know that the Rangers’ objective on the power-play is to setup Mika Zibanejad for one of his signature one-time slap-shots. It is always effective at the start of the season; however, teams begin to key in on Zibanejad and take away that option as the season progresses. I’m not sure how teams would defend the Blueshirts’ power-play with Kakko on one side and Zibanejad opposite him. That will be lethal.
Not only does Kakko have a blistering shot, but he also does a great job getting in a position that allows him to let it rip. He does a great job finding open lanes so that he can be set up for a one-timer.
A playmaker, too
Kaapo Kakko’s bread-and-butter is scoring goals, but his vision is extremely impressive as well. In fact, his goal-scoring prowess allows him to create even more opportunities for his teammates. Kakko draws so much attention from opposing defenses that it creates space for others.
He also uses his one-time slap-shot to set up others.
And he has an uncanny ability to thread the needle.
A rare combination
Kakko can do it all. He’s hockey smart, big, physical, hard-working, and skilled. All of these attributes make him impossible to defend and extremely effective. Here’s an example.
In both of the clips above, Kakko does a great job using his strength and agility to create space and then finishes it off with a beautiful dish.
Additionally, one of the great traits of Kakko is his NHL readiness. With a 6-foot-2, 190-pound frame, Kakko is ready to battle with the big boys. He’s too much to handle for a defenseman his own age.
In case you couldn’t tell, the future is bright. Get excited Rangers fans, the rebuild will be over before you know it.