The New York Rangers future changed drastically following the draft, but don’t place too much pressure on young Kaapo Kakko right away.
It’s one of the most dangerous words in all of sports because it’s simply just that … a word.
There is no guarantee a player with great potential every really pans out. As a matter of fact, the likelihood of a player with great potential failing is higher than succeeding. Simply put, sports have become a world where fans start to hold on to prospects a little too much when the reality is there still so much for a prospect to learn, especially a European one like Kaapo Kakko.
While being excited for a player with the potential Kakko has is perfectly fine, we need to step back and not put too much pressure on his shoulders right away as he enters the NHL. It’s a mistake the Rangers are already seeing with how they’ve handled Lias Andersson’s development, and they would be foolish to do the same with Kakko.
For starters, you can clearly tell Kakko was uncomfortable talking to the media during draft coverage as he continues to learn the English language. That is a huge barrier for any player in any sport for an athlete who doesn’t speak English as they try to assimilate in a new culture. You know it will get better over time, but for an 18-year-old kid whose first trip to New York City is this week, it has to intimidate him a bit.
The most important aspect to remember with Kakko as he transitions to the NHL is his age. Yes, he’s had success playing overseas with men, but the NHL is a different game compared to overseas and there might be more of an adjustment period. NBC Sports’ draft coverage had his room for improvement category with one word: “none.” While that might be how their analysts feel, going with that is a mistake for multiple reasons.
First, there is always room for an athlete to improve and any athlete you talk to will tell you just that. It’s a thought shared by Rangers head coach David Quinn, which means there might be times where we see Kakko playing on the third or fourth line after stretches of inconsistent play which will happen to any 18-year-old playing at the highest level.
Kakko will also have to adjust playing on different ice surface compared to what he’s used to, and while he’s dominated international play with NHL players, it will take some time. Pavel Buchnevich and Mika Zibanejad serve as the perfect example of just that. It took at least one full season for them to truly feel comfortable and could prove to themselves how they belong up here. The likes of Lias Andersson is still searching for that exact feeling, and there’s really no timetable for when a player reaches it.
It’s perfectly fine to show some excitement with young players and what their future holds. But with a talent of this magnitude, we have to take a step back and mack sure his development is done the right way.
The right way might mean him seeing a full season in the AHL with the Hartford Wolf Pack. It might mean he plays the entire year in the NHL while sitting out some games for a teaching purpose. He might play all year and not be a healthy scratch once, and if he does and is able to perform, that’s great news for the future of the Rangers.
One thing is for certain, though; the New York Rangers cannot afford to mess with Kaapo Kakko’s development. That’s what this year should be all about.