Kaapo Kakko
AP Photo

Kappo Kakko’s showing at the IIHF World Championship has him thinking about the New Jersey Devils, the top overall pick at June’s NHL Draft.

Kappo Kakko’s draft stock, already at expansive heights, has only risen in Slovakia.

The 18-year-old forward has been a mainstay at the top of NHL mock drafts. Many already had him going within the first few selections, but his performance at the IIHF World Championship is causing some consideration to put him at the summit.

As group play continues in Bratislava and Kosice, Kappo leads his Finnish squad with six goals. That mark is also good for a second-place tie on the overall leaderboard. His plus/minus of +8 likewise ranks second amongst skaters. Finland currently tops Group A with 13 points and a 4-0-1 record. (Regulation wins are worth two standings points in tournament play, while overtime wins are worth two.)

Kakko is one-half of the consensus’ top two picks in the 2019 NHL Entry Draft alongside Jack Hughes. The American forward has put in one assist in five games for his own squad. While fans of the New York Rangers, holders of the second overall pick, have felt Kakko would slide into their grasp, his play in Slovakia has given the first choosers, the New Jersey Devils, something to think about.

Speaking with Aaron Vickers of NHL.com, Kakko certainly believes his name could be called first.

“This is a big thing for me for the draft,” Kakko told Vickers through a translator. “I think I can be the first (pick).”

“It’s great that people are interested in me and my game, of course. I’m glad I’ve been able to play well and execute. There are so many great NHL players in this tournament and it’s huge I’ve been able to play well against them. I’m hoping I could play in the NHL.”

Kappo was kept off the scoresheet in Finland’s 5-0 victory over Great Britain on Friday, but scored the tying goal in a 3-1 win over Denmark one day prior. He would also earn the primary assist on Harri Pesonen‘s final goal in the third period.

On May 13, Kakko and Hughes’ respective squads faced off in Kosice. Both were held scoreless in a 3-2 United States overtime victory.

“I’ve played well,” Kakko said. “I haven’t paid much attention to Jack Hughes and his game, but I’m confident I’ve been able to let everyone see my skills and the level of my game. It’s not going to be an easy choice for the teams.”

Kakko is no stranger to international success. He has earned gold in a pair of junior tournaments, including the 2019 World Junior Championships last winter in British Columba. Most notably, he scored the game-winning goal in the penultimate minute of the championship game against the Americans in a 3-2 victory.

Finland returns to action on Sunday against France in Kosice. The 2019 NHL Entry Draft will be held on June 21-22 in Vancouver.

Follow Geoff Magliocchetti on TWITTER