Kaapo Kakko is the best prospect the Rangers have had in their history. That is no hyperbole. He is a better prospect than Brian Leetch was. He is a better prospect than any other Rangers legend you can think of that was drafted by this team. The keyword here, of course, is prospect. Leetch didn’t have as much hype as Kakko, but he turned into an elite defenseman, the best the organization has ever had. At that point, though, he wasn’t a prospect, he was a legend.
Therein lies the difference between prospect and legitimate NHLer. Kakko has the chance to be the best offensive player in the history of the Rangers, but that assumes a lot of things go right in his hopefully long and fruitful NHL career. The first thing he needs to do, though, is show up to camp and not just make the team, but make the cut in the top-six and be given legitimate offensive opportunities. That shouldn’t be a problem, assuming he signs his ELC before September.
However once he signs and hopefully makes –there’s still a remote chance he starts in the AHL– the roster, he has work to do. He’s also a rookie, so he’s going to make mistakes. He’s not Connor McDavid, so he’s not going to tear the league apart in his first season. But he will compete with for a Calder Trophy, or at least he should.
Here’s the thing with the hype in New York, most fans are impatient, and he’s going to have his haters as soon as he sets foot on the ice and doesn’t score in his first game. You guys laugh, but there are fans itching to find negatives about anything. What if the kid hits a slump and goes scoreless for ten games? He’s 18, it’s possible, and probable, that this will happen.
Let’s look at the previous 2nd overall picks in the past few seasons, and how they performed in their rookie years:
- Andrei Svechnikov (Carolina – 2018): 20-17-37 in 82 games
- Nolan Patrick (Philly – 2017): 17-17-30 in 73 games
- Patrik Laine (Winnipeg – 2016): 36-28-64 in 73 games
- Jack Eichel (Buffalo – 2015): 24-32-56 in 81 games
- Sam Reinhart (Buffalo – 2014): 23-19-42 in 79 games
Aside from Laine, there are no 30 goal or 60 point scorers in the bunch. That’s not to say it isn’t possible, since Kakko is from the same league as Laine, and Kakko outscored Laine in his draft year. It’s also looking like Kakko is a more complete player than Laine, although Laine has the better shot.
Expecting him to be Laine in his rookie season is probably on the high end of the hopes, while expecting him to be Nolan Patrick is on the completely pessimistic side of things. However I think expecting 20 goals and 50 points is somewhat realistic. I wouldn’t call him a bust if he falls a little short, but I wouldn’t call him a savior if he puts up 30 and 60 either.
This is a great time to be a Rangers fan, and I have never been more excited about the direction of this club. It has reinvigorated me with writing for this blog and keeping it running. However as excited as I am, I don’t want it ruined by expecting too much from an 18 year old kid. I probably sound like a Debbie Downer right now, but I’d rather not be disappointed if he doesn’t put up 90 points in his first season.