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.
Kakko's numbers, outside of the PP, were objectively not good.
However, as a reminder, his top 5v5 linemate was Brett Howden (44% of TOI), who has some of the worst metrics in the NHL the last two seasons. Kakko's on-ice results without him improve 5-8%.https://t.co/52n2UiHDWy pic.twitter.com/fQiXSy7VBD
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.