Kaapo Kakko
ESNY Graphic, AP Photo

Kaapo Kakko and Team Finland won the Gold Medal at the IIHF Worlds, furthering the idea the New York Rangers won’t draft him. 

Frank Curto

John Davidson and Jeff Gorton of the New York Rangers have to be impressed with the play of prospect Kaapo Kakko. The Finnish player, along with Team Finland, won the Gold Medal on Sunday when they defeated Team Canada, 3-1.

The 18-year-old had a great World Championship, recording six goals with seven points in 10 games. That was good for seventh overall in scoring at this tournament.

In a game against Slovakia in the preliminary round, Kakko showcased his scoring touch when he recorded a hat trick in Finland’s 4-2 win.

Kakko won gold medals at the World Junior Championships with Finland in 2018, and both the Under-20 and World Championships in 2019—an impressive feat which surely increased his draft value.

More impressive is the fact he has played in the shadow of the anticipated number one pick in this year’s draft, Jack Hughes. The US Hockey National Team Development player appeared in 50 games this season with the program’s U-18 team, recording 34 goals and 112 points. He scored 20 goals at the U-18 world championships and four assists in four games at the world juniors.

In the World Championships, Hughes managed just three assists, but he played on a USA team that was loaded with NHL talent.

The New Jersey Devils hold the first overall pick and many believe they would select Hughes, but the play of Kakko over the last two weeks has created some talk that the Devils may consider the Finnish player with their selection.

The Rangers really need a strong scorer to complement the sophomore players the team will put on the ice come training camp in September. Both Hughes and Kakko are NHL-ready and will make an immediate impact in the league.

Kakko has played with men in the Finnish League which is a huge advantage over Huges. The Finnish forward recorded 38 points in 45 games, including 22 goals in his first full season with TPS.

The upcoming NHL draft has such a big influence on the future of this Rangers hockey club, yet the decision will be made, in essence, by the New Jersey Devils.

Everyone involved with the Blueshirts, from the executives all the way down to the fans know how important the draft is this season. Would the selection of Hughes instead of Kakko really be a disappointment?

At the completion of the NHL Draft Lottery in April, the Rangers were thrilled to be at two knowing they would get Hughes or most likely Kakko. Fast forward a few weeks later and you have to believe the team, though they wouldn’t admit it, would prefer Kakko in a Rangers sweater.

The 6-foot, nearly 200-pound Kakko does need work in his skating speed. His position with and without the puck was strong in the World Championship, but that was on the larger international ice hockey surface. There will be an adjustment period for the Finnish player to establish the smaller rink, something Hughes is already accustomed to.

The luck of the Rangers has not been strong over the last few years. The sentiment to many Rangers fans is that it’s Kakko or bust.

Rangers fans are tough. Tough on opposing players, their own players they root for and, of course, on their own losing hockey clubs. As tough as they are on the organization as a whole, fans understand hockey here in the big apple.

The Devils taking Kakko first overall in the draft wouldn’t be a loss to the Blueshirts. It would simply mean Rangerstown would still get to see a lot of Kakko, just in a different sweater.

Seeing Kakko put on a New Jersey uniform in Vancouver may just be a disappointment that could haunt fans and the team for many seasons to come.

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A graduate of St. John's University class of '91. I have been a fan of the New York Rangers since the days of Peter Puck. Founder of Ranger Proud, the Facebook page that covers all news, notes, pre /post-game stats, and player quotes. I can be reached at Nyrfc12@gmail.com