Kaapo Kakko is a different player this season and the best is yet to come

The NHL season is just 7 games old for the New York Rangers, and even after a win, the head coach is questioned. Heavy lies the head that wears the crown, I guess.

Today, despite the fact that the 19 year-old rookie, Alexis Lafreniere scored the OT winner against the Sabres, some are criticizing David Quinn for his usage of Kaapo Kakko.

Kaapo Kakko is getting ice time

For many, perception is reality and that’s the only truth they’ll believe these days. In reality, Kaapo Kakko is the Rangers 7th leading forward for 5 on 5 ice time per Natural Stat Trick.

Here’s the breakdown for all forwards who have played at least 5 games this season:

Yes, the 19 year-old kid selected #2 overall in the 2019 Draft is now skating just 7 seconds less than Chris Kreider at even strength this season.

Listen, the kid doesn’t kill penalties and is working his way onto the power play. He’s only played 8:22 on the man advantage, but in truth not many people are seeing PP minutes since Panarin (32:37) and Zibanejad (31:28) are playing the majority of every one of them.

Kaapo Kakko is a different player this season and it shows

kaapo kakko
Kakko scores a beauty (Photo by Justin K. Aller/NHLI via Getty Images)

Kakko has been mostly played on the third line this season, but during various times during games he’s been moved up to play with Strome and Panarin. That wouldn’t happen if Quinn didn’t see what we are all seeing.

The young Finn has been skating great and taking shots from all angles. So far this campaign, his Goals/60 (goal per 60 minutes rate) is 1.29. Last season, it was just .64. That’s due in large part to his Shots/60 which has seen a slight uptick this from 6.94 in 2019/20 to 7.75 in 2020/21.

He’s also doing more to drive the play as his CF% is up from 50.42% to 55.90% this season as well. You can see Kakko has confidence, and it was something Quinn noted in camp.

“I like his progress. I like the direction his game is going,” Quinn gave his feedback on Kakko. “He’s playing with a little bit more confidence – certainly carrying himself different away from the rink – it’s night and day [from last year].”

So now, just like with Lafreniere, he will continue to get his opportunities. The more and more he makes the right plays, the more ice he gets. Eventually, he will be back on the PP.

The onus is on him to keep it up and get better. Kakko already has 2 goals on the season and is just 8 away from tying a career hight. He needs to put the pressure on Quinn to give him more ice time and claim the spot on the 2nd line we all feel will eventually be his.

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

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