Kaapo Kakko quietly solid

The Rangers are rolling towards a President’s Trophy and have slowly become some of the betting favorites to have a long playoff run this Spring. The trade deadline is to thank for the recent run, as the roster balance has allowed the right players to fall into the right roles. This is critical for a player like Kaapo Kakko, who has quietly been very solid for a few weeks.

Kakko has been a polarizing Ranger for a few years now, as the premature hype following his draft year followed by 3 seasons of mediocrity under bad development coaches left many wanting more from the #2 overall pick. Now 5 years removed from his draft year, it’s time to put that expectation aside and appreciate Kakko for what he brings to the ice.

Notably, Kakko has finally found a good home on the third line with Will Cuylle and Alex Wennberg as part of a critical shutdown line for the Blueshirts. Kakko’s individual performance the last 11 games has been solid, if unspectacular, in this role.

Kakko has been on the ice a +15 shot attempt differential while limiting opponents to at most 3 high danger chances at 5v5 in any given game. Defensively, he’s everything you expect of a shutdown winger and a perfect complement to Wennberg as their primary shutdown players. The offense will likely be sparse, but that’s not their role.

The critical aspect to Kakko (and Wennberg) is they are effective as shutdown players, which frees Mika Zibanejad from that role. It won’t be a perfect matchup expectation, as in-game situations will require Zibanejad to take shifts against top competition. But overall, Zibanejad will see more shifts against secondary and tertiary competition, opening up his 5v5 scoring.

Kakko has quietly become a solid role player for a team that was in desperate need of efficient defensive play. Defense has always been his specialty, but we’ve started to see more confidence in his offense as well. Despite playing  a shutdown role against top competition, Kakko has still managed 4 goals and 5 points in the 11 games since the deadline, about a 40 point pace.

If you’re still expecting Kakko to be a point per game scorer, then you will always be disappointed. Kakko’s development was certainly–and perhaps permanently– hindered by both David Quinn and Gerard Gallant. But this season has proved Kakko still has plenty of room to grow. A solid shutdown role player who can put up 20 goals and 40 points is rare.

Many have been clamoring for the Rangers to find a Jesper Fast type player for the Blueshirts. A solid three zone player who provides tertiary scoring. For reference, Jesper Fast’s best season with the Rangers was a 13-20-33 performance in 2017-2018.

Kakko is the new Fast for the Rangers. At least on equal footing defensive, on the forecheck, and in the neutral zone, Kakko’s offense has already eclipsed Fast’s. All the want for Fast has manifested itself in Kakko, yet he hasn’t received that kind of praise just yet. Perhaps it’s time he receive due credit. His impact goes far beyond the scoresheet, and players like him are critical for long postseason runs.


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