Players

NY Rangers 2019-2020 Player Report Card: Kaapo Kakko

Kaapo Kakko had a rough season. The second overall pick had decent counting stats (10-13-23 in 66 games), but it was without the puck where Kakko struggled. It’s clear Kakko is extremely talented, so there isn’t necessarily cause for concern, but it is something that we need to dive into.

First on Kakko himself, he had to adjust to the North American game. This is something we covered in February, as it was identified that how he receives the puck on passes was contributing significantly to his lack of consistent offense. He receives the puck in close to his body before pivoting to move the puck or drive the net. On larger ice surfaces, that works since he has more time to work with. On North American ice, players are on top of him quicker, thus he’s unable to do what he wants. It’s a small adjustment to be made.

Despite that adjustment, Kakko still managed to put up decent offensive numbers and have a significant role on the powerplay. He put up 2-11-13 with the man advantage, so it’s clear the skill and vision is there. However that leaves him with 8-2-10 at even strength, not overly impressive. So again we dive deeper.

This…isn’t good. There is no sugarcoating this, there is no explanation around it. It just isn’t good. Kakko had an extremely negative impact in both sustained offense and consistent defense at even strength. This again needs a deeper dive, because someone of Kakko’s talent shouldn’t have been this atrocious for the year. Luckily, Rob here did this for me so I don’t need to do the digging.

WOWY’s are not the best stat to use, but as Rob stated, when there is a significant difference in performance with and without a specific player –in this case Brett Howden– it needs to be taken into account. Howden is, simply put, not a viable NHLer at this moment, yet Kakko spent the overwhelming majority of his ice time with him. That would impact anyone’s numbers, and it shows that when Kakko wasn’t with Howden, he performed better.

Kakko’s rolling xGF% is highlighted here, and he struggled for most of the season. He did hit a major peak in the January-February run the Rangers went on. Looking at the line combos in those games, Kakko rotated between Filip Chytil and Ryan Strome as his center. This is when Brett Howden was on the fourth line. That huge dip at the end is when Pavel Buchnevich was hurt, forcing either Howden or Greg McKegg back up to the third line. That is not a coincidence.

It seems unfair to say that all of Kakko’s struggles were due to being paired with Howden, which is why I led with the adjustments to his game that are needed. I also want to close with something on his game – which is his skating. He has superb agility and his skating is overall top notch, but he lacked a certain breakaway speed. Ideally as he grows into the game, he will significantly improve to hit that ceiling. Remember that Aleksander Barkov, another #2 overall Finn, struggled in his first (and second!) season before becoming a mainstay on Florida’s top line.

Grade: C.

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  • I think this was a little harsh. Especially considering Lias’ troubles were almost exclusively tied to his linemates on these sites. Had most been objective in their analysis of Andersson, I would then say this is a fair assessment of Kakko. But if Howden sucks so bad, and almost single-handedly ruined Lias’ career by getting his ice-time (in the view of some), then almost all of the blame for Kakko should be with Howden as well. That doesn’t make sense? Yea, exactly.

    I’m not worried about Kakko. I actually worry more about the writers and bloggers writing about him. I would not underestimate how much he’s learned this season on and off the ice. I suspect we will see a different player when play resumes. They’ve basically had an off-season now. Jack Hughes struggled very much as well. Their numbers are almost identical. Kakko and Hughes never really made a case for the Calder all season either. This to me says that neither were really ready for the NHL, and probably should have spent more time working on their game. I would hedge on too much criticism this season. All the high-performing rookies this year are in their twenties, some pushing mid-20’s. The story, to me, was that Kakko and Hughes were rushed into the NHL this year. I have no doubt they will both be great NHL players in the long- term.

    • The legend of Lias the bust is strong con some sites. It’s like they are talking about a different player than the one who actually plays .

  • Just needs to adjust to the pace and play with better linemates — plus given the former he seemed to hit a wall earlier than many who graduate to the NHL from leagues where they play fewer games.

    I wouldn’t have been surprised though if he hit 30+ points over the course of a FULL 82 game rookie season — at 18 years old that isn’t bad at all.

  • Howden is one of the worst NHL players in the league, underlying stats speaking. He’s an anchor and never possesses the puck while he’s on the ice.

    Put Kakko with Panarin and Chytil, get the popcorn, and watch them take off.

    • It’s not that easy to assume that Chytil would “take off” next to Panarin. He still had a lot of improvement to make up in all three zones. It would be a rookie mistake to break up the original Panarin line for the sake of Chytil development.

      However Kakko would benefit the most in playing with an top 6 forward, a center to be exact. Chytil has had the chance to play with both him and Buch as a line on the PP2 with Trouba/Fox at the point. His combination of wingers are a good healthy mix for the most part. He has a hard enough time to be a threat in the matchup game. I can’t see him deliver all that much against tougher opponents with a greater responsibility to produce.

      The Panarin and Strome combo is to risky to blow up now.

      • If you watch Chytil on the PP, when he actually plays with skilled players, then you see that he belongs.

        I mean even putting Chytil with Gauthier and Krav would make a big difference. Playing with stiffs like Howden and Lemiuex does nothing to tap Chytil’s skills.

        Kakko will be fine. He also has to play with more skilled players. I mean these are young players who are not going to make other players better at this stage of their careers. They need assistance with better linemates.

        • When 100% healthy he would usually play with Buch and Kakko. He would also have a combination of ADA, Fox and Trouba.

          Let’s face it, that’s plenty of potential within that group… Yet the PP2 had been the jv team and never changed post Chytil call up.

          I think that Kakko still needs more of the upgrade on his line. This team would have 3 lines of attack if they could get Kakko to play with.

          • KZB
            Panarin-Chytil-Kakko
            Gauthier-Strome-Krav

            or, if DQ insists on Strome with Panarin:

            KZB
            Panarin-Strome-Kakko
            Gauthier-Chytil-Krav
            Lemiuex-Howden-Fast

          • Gauthier is a RW … and I don’t think he’s one of those RWs that has played on both sides.

          • In terms of black and white, Quinn has the correct idea to get the most out of this roster. He avoid line matchups and the headace of not having a reliable bottom 6 checking line. I don’t think that the NYR community realizes how hard it is to play next to a top line talent. There’s a reason why Panarin has been so vocal about Strome’s presence on the 5v5.

            The matchup game would be hard if you put that much pressure on Chytil in the top 6. Than you have Strome as an “on pace for 35 points as a 3rd liner” outside his role right now. Why mess with that? Howden does miss Fast but right now I don’t blame Quinn for loading up both of the top 6 and PP1 lines. Chytil hasn’t shown that he can stick in either of those roles like Strome has.

            The front office should go all in and make a low ball-overpay type of return for Eichel. Send Chytil, Andersson, Buch, ADA and draft pick to Buff. I’d add Georgie to that if it can get it done.

            Rangers fix their depth and PP2 problem. Eichel allows to create a checking 3rd line which could benefit a lot of Hartford players right now. Meanwhile Kakko and Kravtsov develop next to a elite center as the 2nd line. PP2 would become a dual threat after the PP1 comes off. Load management becomes a better option for Quinn. Than just turn Miller into a power forward where he would be best suited for this team imo.

            If management wants to plan for the future than trading for Eichel is a start. Both Chytil and Buch would serve best as trade chips to Buffalo. If I’m ever trading ADA than I would try sneaking for a top teir name like this.

          • Yikes, that trade would gut the Rangers, IMO. That’s not a low ball offer at all, but maybe an all in offer. Besides, I’m not sure that Eichel is worth that return.

            Strome is a nice player but he’s also a byproduct of Panarin. Fast is an absolute drain on Panarin’s talents. He does not possess the offensive skills to keep up with him. A lot of wasted opportunities between Strome and Fast. Which is why I say put young, skilled players with Bread.

            If the Rangers could get a solid 4th line, then they would be in much better shape. I think that the top 9 players are already there.

          • That would be a highway robbery for the NYR.

            It seems nice at first glance but I think that deal would cripple Buffalo. First of all, Buch will be a contract nightmare that is coming up. I can only imagine what he would be like over in Buff. I think most likely he would bail once he hits UFA status. He wouldn’t be able to do much with that roster anyways. Chytil would feel like a 1.0 upgrade version to Casey Mittelstadt. If ADA has to be apart of it this package than so be it. He would probably just end up bailing on them during his UFA off-season anyways. Otherwise you keep him at all cost unless he’s involve elite 1c trade talks.

            I would add a draft pick but Buff probably laughs at that proposal. That would hardly put a dent in this team’s “depth” which isn’t something to write home about. It’s the Panarin, Zib, ADA and Fox show.. Eichel would upgrade the none top line and PP with one strike. His presence would push Panarin up to play with Zib. Kakko would develop next to a underrated passer and goal scorer. The 2nd line and PP2 would reach heights that Chytil will never be able to unlock. His 5v5 presence would be more beneficial after you realize that Zib, Kreider and Bread were on the bench getting their breathe.

            Eichel would let management do what they’re good at… Which is to draft medium bottom 6 talent. Harford has a roster full of names who would benefit in the 10-13 min per game role. Kravtsov could be on a line with Eichel and Kakko in a season or two. PP2 can’t have more potential than that. Meanwhile names like Gettinger and Lettieri will benefit with a loaded top 6. Quinn can give them certain instructions next to talents like Fast. Management can worry about drafting upper tier bottom 9 players who can jump right in right away. The top 6 core would only be able to stay open with a guy’s like Eichel and Kakko. Chytil and Buch will never serve as that type of depth.

          • NotsoAvery,

            ADA is a 50 pt player and one of the best D men from the Rangers’ blue line to the opponents’ goal line. So will Buch. So may Chytil.

            Buch has the chance to be a breakout player this year. That KZB line is a true #1 line.

            Trust me on this (lol), put Chytil together with Panarin and Kakko, and there would be no need for Eichel.

          • As I stated from before, I’m not trading ADA… Unless if it’s for a elite 1c who is already under contract at a fair price at a young age. Sorry but the younger elite 1c always wins in my book. Other than that I would keep ADA 9/10 times.

            The PP2 becomes a threat for years to come with Eichel there. I think for now it’s safe to say that Buch and Chytil tag team doesn’t help on the PP2. Kakko would thrive with a center with a elite center. You’re looking at a better chance to see him and Kravtsov develop quickly.

            It’s not up to me on line combos. Panarin has already expressed that him and Strome have something special (that was before thanksgiving). All I can offer is my 10+ years of experience over jumping over the boards.

          • Trading 2nd tier offensive players like Chytil and Buch, and a top end D man like ADA, is giving up 150 pts right there, for a player who is just now getting a point per game.

            That’s a lot of offense to give up for one player. So let’s say the Rangers do that, how do you fill in the rest of the line up?

          • Depth is just as important as star players — and we may already have a few of those (Mika, Panarin, Igor -hopefully-). What we need is more depth for the bottom 6.

    • They tried Kakko many times with with top six players and he didn’t do that well. He will most definitely improve though by the middle of next season to the point of being a legit top 3 forward.

      I remember being told on the other BSB how awful Neil Pionk was while in the middle of his second season last year. I argued that he was a significantly better player than his fancy stats showed. Pionk was last season BSB whipping boy. This season it’s been Howden. I saw this coming during pre season as the clique their did their thing. They were wrong on Pionk who has over 50 points this year and they are wrong on Howden. His game was starting to really get going the last 10-12 games before the stoppage. I bet he is one of the surprises both on the playoffs upcoming and next season.

      • Pionk was obviously miscast here, and was put in spots that he should not have been in. That’s the coach’s fault.

        • Sorry pal. Not buying that. He played well here and it was obvious . He was covering up for Staal and trying to do too much. Not much more here last year in terms of defense to play him with. Can’t blame the coach for poor players. Hope u are well?

          • Bro, Pionk was a defensive disaster. May not have been all his fault, but he was on that side of the ice.

          • Yep Czech, he probably was … in retrospect (the quick development of Fox, the rise of DeAngelo and the cap hit of Trouba) we should have kept Pionk and the Jets’ 1st rounder instead of grabbing Trouba — although Trouba adds a physical dimension Pionk could never match, so it’s still a tough call.

      • DQ, sorry Czech,

        What does Pionk’s assessment have to do with Howden performance?! If anything, DQ miscast both of them. Pionk’s linemate killed his stats and Howden kills his linemates stats. Two very different examples. I knew Howden was bad, but Kakko’s numbers with him prove he is a AAAA player at best. Press box is his best position. I am sure he is a great kid which is why DQ hopes him to be his son in law one day but this ain’t youth hockey. You need something more than character to avoid BSB cross hairs.

        • Don’t agree with you. The kid is in his second year as a pro. He has been better this year then last. The numbers you speak of mean less than zero to me. They are the equivalent to common core math.

          I wouldn’t give up on Howden just yet.

          • Never said to give up on him but tired of seeing him touch third line minutes or the 4th line center position over a number of players. Far more deserving players for those spots. Both the eye test and analytics confirm that view.

          • Like who is more deserving? And please don’t say Lias because you lose all credibility

  • Kakko just needs more practices, more games, some more conditioning and you will see him become a different player.

    It is harder than most realize for many European players to adjust to the NHL when they first arrive. Add to that Kakko being only 18, and it is no surprise that he struggled. But I expect to see him improve steadily over the course of his second season. He will be fine.

  • Howden is goodbye material, as is whoever is judging talent before trades and drafts in this organization! One hit is Gauthier though, who looks promising. Not sure yet at all about Kravtsov, but Digieseppe and Mckegg deserve spots… and I’d seriously consider trading Buchnevich for a top prospect or high #1 pick in this year’s draft.

  • Kakko is an 18 y/o who moved away from his country. Forget hockey for the moment and think how difficult this is. Now, put him under a microscope in NYC. Let’s cut the kid some slack and give him another year to learn the USA, the NHL game and the effort required on a daily basis.

  • Kakko did not adjust well at all to the North American game in his first year. He continually looked frustrated almost every shift. The expectations of many, including myself, at the beginning of the year, were to high on an 18 year old European player. Some predicted 60 points. He has the talent and makeup to mature into a special player in a year or two. The Devils Hughes, didn’t do any better.

  • Kakko did not adjust well at all to the North American game in his first year. He continually looked frustrated almost every shift. The expectations of many, including myself, at the beginning of the year, were to high on an 18 year old European player. Some predicted 60 points. He has the talent and makeup to mature into a special player in a year or two. The Devils Hughes, didn’t do any better.

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