Ever since the Rangers landed the #2 overall pick a few weeks ago, it’s been nonstop Kaapo Kakko talk. All year, Kakko was the clear-cut #2 selection behind Jack Hughes. After Hughes and Kakko, there is a significant drop-off in talent in the #3-#9 range, although all of the players in that range are still considered great prospects. They just aren’t at the Hughes and Kakko level.
It wasn’t until the last month or so that Kakko has closed the gap on Hughes. Hughes has always been the #1 and Kakko the #2, but now it’s closer to a 60/40 split instead of a huge gap between the two. That is a significant jump in his stock. A lot of his showing at the World Juniors, where he put up 2-3-5 in 7 games as a 17 year old with Finland. Hughes, on the other hand, didn’t score and had four assists in four games for USA. GMs love the World Juniors.
GMs also love size, and that’s another area where Kakko has an advantage over Hughes. The latter is 5’10” and 170 lbs, whereas the former is 6’1″ and 180 lbs. It really isn’t much, and size is less and less of a factor these days, but given the now lesser difference in skill, GMs will love his size advantage. If the Devils are looking for a reason to not pick Hughes, these three reasons may be enough. There are a lot of other reasons, and Corey Pronman covered them here (subs. req’d). But it’s still unlikely, and it’s more than probable that the Rangers grab Kakko at #2.
Kakko put up 22-16-38 in 45 games as a 17/18 year old in Liiga, the top Finnish league. Remember that he’s playing against grown men as a US minor for most of the season. That’s just impressive. But it’s more than the points that set Kakko apart.
Kakko’s skill set is elite across the board. He’s quick and fast, meaning he has a top notch first step and the top speed to boot. He’s got a strong lower body so he’s tough to bounce off the puck, which helps his balance as well. He uses that strength to protect the puck and also to get to the front of the net.
Kaapo Kakko is just relentless. Stopped on a breakaway and then sets up the empty cage for Eemeli Suomi. Look at the patience w/ that pass. pic.twitter.com/hE5sxgloRO
— Alex Nunn (@aj_ranger) April 13, 2019
His speed gets him the breakaway. But his strength and hands help him set up the goal here. Here’s another one:
Kaapo Kakko just toying w/ Norway at the end tonight. pic.twitter.com/dq4S1VrHfj
— Alex Nunn (@aj_ranger) April 18, 2019
Kakko gets in deep and takes the puck along the boards and gets a shot off. Then it’s basically the Kakko show, as he creates off turnovers on the forecheck and keeps the play in the offensive zone. They didn’t score here, but the entire shift was in the offensive zone, created off his tenacious forecheck.
One last play, showing his ability to get to the front of the net against grown men:
Kaapo Kakko stopped on a good early power move to the net. His frame is just so comfortable against men. pic.twitter.com/hhfKzYAFWt
— Alex Nunn (@aj_ranger) April 26, 2019
It’s just just his skating and forechecking aggressiveness. His hands and shot match him every step of the way, and that is probably an understatement. He has great vision which makes him dangerous setup man, and that isn’t even the most dangerous aspect of his arsenal. This is a play that made its rounds on Twitter.
What a pass from Kaapo Kakko to Harri Pesonen. pic.twitter.com/DMZGLv8SKZ
— Alex Nunn (@aj_ranger) April 25, 2019
And that doesn’t even highlight perhaps the best aspect of his game, which is his shot. His shots are heavy and with a quick release, which is a double whammy for effectiveness. It’s what balances out his game and makes him so dangerous. He can beat you in many different ways. There are tons of videos, but I want to focus on one:
This video gives you three different types of goals for Kakko. First he finds open space in front, then gets to the back-door for the tap-in. Second he is the late man in and finds the open space and uses that incredible wrister. Third is just another beautiful wrister from way outside the circle to complete the hat trick, using the defenseman as a screen.
Touched upon earlier, Kakko is also no slouch away from the puck and in his own end. Tenacious on the forecheck, and successful because of his ability to read plays, it translates to the defensive end of the rink as well. He supports his teammates, he back checks, and he’s good along the boards to transition the play to offense.
Kakko is still the projected #2 pick and is the one that will likely get most of the Blueshirt blogging ink space for the next six weeks or so. He’s a true franchise altering prospect. He’s not a generational talent like Connor McDavid, but he’s an elite level player that should be able to crack the roster on October 1, 2019."2019 NHL Draft Profile: Kaapo Kakko",