Second-overall pick Kaapo Kakko may be forced to skip the Stanley Cup Playoffs, but that may not be a bad thing for him or the Rangers.
Kaapo Kakko’s rookie season did not go as planned. After being long touted as an NHL-ready prospect, the second-overall pick entered his first year burdened with sky-high expectations. He did not live up to them. While Kakko’s first campaign with the New York Rangers was undeniably disappointing, he is far from a bust.
The Finnish sniper turned 19 in February, and he still managed to tally a respectable 10 goals and 13 assists in 66 games. He showed flashes of promise, and he was beginning to elevate his game when the NHL regular season came to a screeching halt. Kakko even netted two goals in the Rangers’ March 10 contest against the Dallas Stars, which turned out to be New York’s penultimate outing of the regular season.
Of all people, Kakko must be itching to get back out on the ice and silence the critics in the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs. In fact, he has been skating and working out in Finland in preparation for the postseason. He’s hungry and ready to make a statement.
However, the 6-foot-2, 198-pound, winger has Type 1 diabetes and Celiac disease, supposedly putting him at an increased risk of health complications as a result of the coronavirus. Kakko will have to evaluate whether or not it’s safe for him to compete. The Rangers believe it will be safe enough for Kakko to compete, but there’s no guarantee he does.
On the surface, this looks like a negative, but it could turn out to be a blessing in disguise for the Blueshirts as well as Kakko himself.
By all accounts, one of the 19-year-old’s biggest issues this season was fatigue. Kakko looked tired and worn down from the get-go. He was unable to showcase the burst and physicality that he displayed during his pre-draft season. He was exhausted, and not without reason.
It’s hard enough for an 18-year-old kid to enter the league and adjust to the unmatched strength and quickness that the NHL-game requires. Just look at No. 1 pick Jack Hughes, who was scoring at the same rate as Kakko and also shared the same abysmal plus-minus rating (-26) for the New Jersey Devils.
But Kakko was not only subject to the typical NHL growing pains, as he also had other factors contributing to his lack of explosiveness. First and foremost, Kakko is Finnish. Don’t underestimate the challenges of living in a foreign country, across the globe, at 18 years of age. It surely takes a lot of energy out of you. Not to mention, Kakko barely spoke the language while navigating the aforementioned dietary restrictions. That’s a tall task for such a young kid.
Additionally, the sought-after winger dealt with a grueling 2018-19 schedule, playing 50 games against grown men in Liiga, the Finnish professional league, and then another 10 in the summer during the IIHF World Championship in Slovakia. He also traveled to Buffalo, NY for the IIHF World Junior Championship, during which he played seven games. Again, all that travel and competition is demanding and draining.
It has been a busy, taxing couple of years for Kakko. Due to the World Championship and Rangers rookie camps, he didn’t even get to enjoy a full offseason in 2019. For this reason, he needs it in 2020. Returning for the playoffs would once again cut his summer short.
Kakko should sit out the postseason, resting, and training for the 2020-21 campaign. This type of elongated hiatus could be exactly what the doctor ordered when it comes to the youngster’s development. This could be what gets his game back on track, which is the ultimate goal for all parties involved. It would serve everyone well.
If the Blueshirts were legitimate, top-flight Stanley Cup contenders, it would be a different story. But given the current state of the world as well as the team, it would be best for Kaapo Kakko to get some extra rest. The kid needs it.