Is it time to reset expectations for Kaapo Kakko

Kaapo Kakko, who was selected second overall in 2019, is 17 games into his fifth NHL season. The struggles are obvious as he sits with just 2 goals and 3 points earning him a demotion to the third-line after starting in the top-six with Mika Zibanejad and Chris Kreider.

The 22 year-old forward is not solely responsible for being dropped down, as both veterans have not done much offensively 5-on-5 this year. However, Kakko continues to stay on the perimeter, and not doing enough to generate high-danger scoring chances by going to the net more frequently.

After 256 career regular-season games to date, Kakko’s 101 points and his .39 points per game average are well below expectations for such a high pick. Which raises the question if those lofty expectations need to be reset.

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Is it time to reset expectations for Kaapo Kakko

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When it comes to Kaapo Kakko, there are two camps that have taken distinct sides in this debate. One group believes the young winger’s offensive issues are the fault of the Rangers’ organization, claiming he wasn’t developed properly. Meanwhile, the other faction believes he’s a bust and the Rangers should move on.

As per usual, the argument is never that simple. In a recent episode of the Forever Blueshirts Show, 1994 Stanley Cup winning GM Neil Smith weighed in with his distinct perspective. Remember, before Smith became a GM, he was a scout and understands how difficult it can be to spot talent.

“He may never live up to expectations some people have for him,” Smith said of Kakko. “Sometimes what you project in a player, when he gets into the league just doesn’t pan out. I’m not saying he’s a bust, but I’m also not saying you shouldn’t worry about him. Perhaps you are not going to get second overall statistics from him in his career.”

While it’s too early to assume that Kakko won’t put it all together and start scoring as originally anticipated, he still does all the little things right. When it comes to controlling play and holding onto the puck, Kakko is excellent. Unfortunately, his penchant for constantly playing along the boards isn’t helping him score goals, or get points.

According to NHL Edge, only 5 of his 21 shots on goal have come from high-danger areas of the ice. That’s one of the main reasons head coach Peter Laviolette eventually moved him out of the top-six.

Throughout it all, Kakko remains an excellent defensive forward and isn’t a liability for Laviolette. Coming into this season per the site Evolving Hockey, Kakko ranked in the 72nd percentile defensively among forwards.

“The thing I’m noticing more and more with Kakko is they’re starting to give him more responsibility in defensive situations,” reporter Vince Mercogliano said before the 2023-24 campaign began. “The last two seasons, he’s graded out as one of the Rangers better defensive forwards.”

Of course, the Rangers didn’t draft him second overall to be a defensive gem. They need Kakko to start producing offensively, and that may happen once Filip Chytil returns and Kakko plays with him or Vincent Trocheck instead of checking center Nick Bonino.

Regardless, expectations for Kakko need to be reset. There hasn’t been much indication that he will be a goal scorer, simply because he doesn’t shoot enough. And until he starts driving to the middle of the ice more, being a point-a-game type player seems to be a stretch.

With all this being said, would the Rangers be satisfied if Kakko becomes a defensive stalwart who can chip in 15 to 20 goals a season on the third-line? What about the fans? There’s no question you need those types of players to win championships, and if Kakko is a key contributor to another Stanley Cup, everyone will be happy.

Anthony Scultore is the founder of Forever Blueshirts and has been covering the New York Rangers and the NHL... More about Anthony Scultore