Kaapo Kakko had a pretty decent, if underwhelming, rookie season with the NY Rangers. He certainly has a ton of skill, but the adjustment to the North American game certainly held him back. He’s not the first European player to have some struggles when coming overseas, but there is no denying his skill. Kakko is one of those players who should only get better as he gets more experience. With playoff camp opening two days ago, Kakko seemed extremely well rested and almost like a different player.
Amateur observation: Kakko looks spry to me — leaner and quicker.
He just held up well in a defensive drill, winning a 50-50 puck battle with Julien Gauthier. (A very big, strong dude).
We’ll see how it plays out, but DQ has said Kakko seems more comfortable. #NYR
— Vince Z. Mercogliano (@vzmercogliano) July 14, 2020
One of the areas that Kakko needed some improvement was positioning when receiving passes and decision making. This wasn’t a bad thing, it was simply an adjustment to a smaller ice size. He’s also a kid that is going to continue to mature and get stronger. As he leans out and gets stronger, like Vince noted, he’s going to be quicker. That slows the game down naturally, and will help with some of those problem areas.
Time away to grow is certainly an important aspect for Kakko, but perhaps the biggest factor is something simple. It’s just rest. The kid needed some rest.
Starting last year, Kakko managed to go almost two full years without a break:
- Full season with TPS
- World Juniors for Finland
- World Championships with Finland
- Rookie camp with the Rangers
- Traverse City
- Preseason and a full season with the Rangers
That list covers roughly August 2018 through March 2020. That’s 18 months of hockey without a break longer than a month or so. Now Kakko is rested, any nagging issues are healed, and he’s on four months of a break. Even 18 year olds need rest. Kakko got it.
A developing Kakko paired with Filip Chytil can make the Rangers’ third line a dangerous threat that goes up against lesser quality of opposition. The Blueshirts’ top-six will get the attention, but production from Chytil, Kakko, and potentially Phil Di Giuseppe makes them a true threat up and down the lineup.
One of the holes in the Rangers lineup was forward depth. The tertiary scoring just wasn’t there consistently. Perhaps this break is all the Rangers, and Kakko, needed to help round out that forward group.