Kaapo Kakko faced ridiculous expectations this season but will shine when hockey comes back
As we enter week five of the NHL Pause, and we eagerly await news on hockey’s return, let’s look back at Kaapo Kakko’s season so far. After 66 games, the Rangers 2nd overall pick in the 2019 draft has 10 goals and 23 points. 3 of his goals are game winners proving he scores clutch goals which is significant since he just turned 19 years old in February. While some feel he should have been better, I firmly disagree.
Transition and Expectation
Kakko was making a huge transition at a very young age from Finland. He also had to learn the defensive game on a smaller ice surface with the best players in the world. His -26 is evidence of that. Whether you like that stat are not, it’s there for a simple view that he is on the ice for too many goals against.
The other issue was everyone assuming, including myself that he would storm onto the scene and score 25 to 30 goals and contend for rookie of the year at 18. His biggest problems this season were holding on to the puck too long and not shooting enough. In 66 games he only took 109 shots for a lowly 1.65 shots per game with a shooting percentage of 9.2%. To compare and contrast, Pavel Buchnevich took 2.17 shots per game and scored 16 goals with a 10.8 S%. Kakko needs to shoot more and he did show a willingness to do so late in the season. In his last 8 games before the pause, he took at least 3 shots in 4 games and at least 2 shots in 5 of them.
The Svechnikov Comparison
This comparison would be echoed and confirmed by Rangers coach David Quinn. In a recent article written by Larry Brooks on Kakko taking time off during the NHL All Star Break, Quinn mentions and echoes that he’s essentially taking the same path that Svechnikov took during the previous NHL campaign.
“I think he does [recognize that],” Quinn said. “He and I have talked. This is all new to him. He’s never been on a third line. He’s always been the top guy. He’s always been the guy who’s scored. You know, it’s taken some time for him to realize that doesn’t happen, and I always use Svechnikov as an example to him.”
That was a reference to Carolina’s Andrei Svechnikov, the Russian winger who was the 2018 second-overall selection in the draft. Svechnikov had 12 goals and 22 points in 50 games entering the Canes’ bye period as compared to Kakko’s seven goals and nine assists in 43 contests. Svechnikov finished his rookie season with 20 goals and 37 points. Larry Brooks/New York PostNY POST
Svechnikov, in his first 50 games as a Hurricane registered 12 goals and 22 points. Similarly, Kakko has seven goals in his first 43 contests. The Hurricanes forward ended the season with 20 goals. This season has fared far better for Svechnikov, as he has 19 goals and 45 points in 50 games. During this first half, he’s become one of Carolina’s better forwards, along with Sebastian Aho.
Both players employ a similar style of play, which entails being strong with the puck, making smart plays added with a heavy shot. Placed on a line with Filip Chytil and Brett Howden, Kakko seems to be a bit more at ease. Even though they haven’t made a dent on the scoresheet and putting out low possession numbers, that line seems to have a bit of a jump to them. Labeled as the “Diaper” line, there’s a sense of eagerness in their game that can be attributed youth and tremendous skill.
Kakko will be fine
Watching Kakko with the puck, you can see how he stands out. He holds the puck well in the corners and is strong on the forecheck, is making better passes to his linemates and is more willing to shoot the puck now more than he did earlier in the season. He’s become increasingly noticeable, even when he’s not on the scoresheet. The downside within all of this is that he seems to be a tad bit tentative taking the puck to the net and will over pass the puck on occasion as. All echoing similar to Svechnikov of last season.
All of that previously mentioned, along with the comparison to Andrei Svechnikov is why Kaapo Kakko will shine for the Rangers when they return. Not every high end pick will jump out of the gate like Matthews or McDavid, but the signs are there when watching Kakko play. Day by day, it seems as if he’s acclimating to the North American game and is slowly entrenching himself to the culture, lifestyle and pace of play. Learning the game with Chytil and Howden, it seems as if Kakko is figuring things out. I believe that Kakko will surprise us all and come out of the gate strong and become the player the Rangers selected second overall in the 2019 NHL Entry Draft. No need to worry, he’ll be just fine.
Note: This article also had contributions from Johnluke Chapparo.