As we eagerly await news on hockey’s 2020-2021 return, let’s look back at Kaapo Kakko’s season last year. After 66 games, the Rangers 2nd overall pick in the 2019 draft finished with 10 goals and 23 points. Three of his goals were 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.
Kaapo Kakko transition and expectations
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 those 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.
“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
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. That was even more evident in the playoffs.
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.
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 seemed 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.