Normally when doing player report cards, we start at the top of the lineup and work our way down. Since we have less time this year between the end of the season and the silly part of the offseason, we are starting with players who may not be with the Rangers next year. This year, we start with a Kaapo Kakko report card.

To be fair to Kakko, it’s about time we remove the #2 overall pick stigma from his analysis. He’s not going to be a prolific scorer, even if that’s a tough pill to swallow. Simply put, he’s not quick enough with the puck and despite his strong metrics, still has some fundamental issues impacting his offense, notably he needs to be a half second quicker with his reads.

So to best evaluate Kakko, we need to look to his role. He was given a chance to play in top six minutes with Chris Kreider and Mika Zibanejad, and while they didn’t score much at 5v5, Kakko was instrumental in keeping that line above water in terms of xG share. Keep in mind, as we’ve noticed, xG share does matter, even if it’s less pronounced for the Rangers.

Per Natural Stat Trick, Kakko’s impact on Zibanejad and Kreider was on the defensive side of things. They allowed just 0.54 goals against per 60 minutes, leading to a whopping 71% of the goals share, largely due to an ability to keep opponents from high danger chances (8.89 HDCA/60), thus limiting xGA. But offense suffered, and Kakko was removed from that line. He was given a chance, and it just didn’t work.

That seemed to be the impact across all his teammates. Of the top three forwards Kakko was with (Will Cuylle being #1 on that list with Zibanejad and Kreider right behind him), the defensive numbers improved while the offensive numbers suffered. It’s a useful skill set, and a rare one for a young player, but one that ultimately leaves us disappointed due to the lack of offense.

Kakko has established himself as a defense-first player, and a very effective one at that. When he’s on the ice, the Rangers have a net 5% more effective defense structure. But it comes at the expense of a -11% impact on offense. In the right role, Kakko is a shutdown winger that can transition play up the ice. Very good to have at the right price, but not someone you bank a big contract on.

Aside: It is astounding to me that Kakko was not used at all on the penalty kill.

When you remove the #2 overall pick stigma from his play, it’s easy to see what the Rangers have in Kakko. When he found his role, the Rangers were better. It was not a coincidence that once Kakko joined Filip Chytil in the press box with a long term injury, the overall team defense took a major step back. Chytil’s two-way play is understated, and Kakko’s defensive play compounded the issue. The Rangers lost arguably their best defensive winger to go with one of their better two-way centers. That should not be lost on people.

Still, Kakko needs to provide more offense to be truly useful on a Cup contending team. If he put up his offensive numbers from 2022-2023 (18-22-40) this year, then no one would be questioning his future in New York. But he took a major step back with just 13-6-19 in 61 games, a 17-8-23 pace. You might think he would have more assists playing with Kreider and Zibanejad, but the fit simply wasn’t there.

Kakko is now most likely the Rangers best trade chip to land a bonafide top-six winger with some snarl, something the Rangers desperately need. That said, Kakko is still a very useful player and the Rangers would obviously be selling low after a down year.

Some context on the down year: Kakko’s on-ice SH% was 4.76%, almost half his career average. He was paired with Kreider and Zibanejad when that duo couldn’t buy a goal at 5v5 and in Zibanejad’s worst 5v5 season in 5 years. Perhaps it is all connected. Perhaps not. But there is context and nuance to Kakko’s performance last season. In theory, that on-ice SH% rebounds in a big way and Kakko’s numbers skyrocket.

Theory and actuals are not always in sync.

Grade: B-

Mentioned in this article:

More About: