Kaapo Kakko sounds optimistic about new Rangers coach and opportunity

kaapo kakko
Nov 7, 2019; Raleigh, NC, USA; New York Rangers right wing Kaapo Kakko (24) comes out onto the ice before the start of the third period against the Carolina Hurricanes at PNC Arena. The Rangers won 4-2. Mandatory Credit: James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports

Kaapo Kakko is a big kid with an even bigger smile. The young Finn will be entering his third season in the NHL and seems extremely optimistic. In an interview back home in Turku, Kakko touched on a few topics; including his new found fame as an NHL star.

Kaapo Kakko ready to seize next opportunity

Gerard Gallant has been pretty adamant about giving young players an opportunity. He’s also openly stated that he doesn’t believe top prospects should be utilized on the fourth line. “I don’t think young players can sit on the fourth line and get a lot out of that,” Gallant explained his philosophy on development. “I think young players with a lot of talent if they are first, second, or third line hockey players you’ve got to play them.”

This certainly sent a charge through the bodies of many of David Quinn’s detractors, but I do suggest to proceed with caution on the statement. Regardless, Gallant certainly has made Kakko ready and re-energized for next season.

kaapo kakko
Bruce Bennett/POOL PHOTOS-USA TODAY Sports

“Of course I would like more points,” Kakko told YLE News. “When I played in Finland, it was all working for me. Now the last few seasons (in the NHL) have been quieter for me.” Still, Kakko views last year as a step in the right direction. “I’m pleased with [how I played]. I was able to improve my game.”

When he was specifically asked about his new head coach, Kakko was already thinking playoffs. “We have a good bunch of players (to make the postseason)” he said about the team’s next steps. “Personally, I think that points are starting to come and I’m going to take a bigger role on the top lines next season.”

Kakko should thrive next season

Kaapo Kakko was selected second overall in the 2019 NHL Entry Draft. The 6-3 winger is now 20 years of age and at a crucial point in his development. He finished the 2020-21 campaign with 17 points on the strength of 8 goals in 48 games.

Although his numbers don’t stand out, he missed time this season after contracting COVID-19. As a diabetic, this was especially concerning and he admitted it took him awhile to start feeling better after he returned. The biggest issue he complained of was not having his leg strength. For a player that uses his lower body strength to control the boards and quick bursts of speed, it had a negative impact on his numbers.

However, Kakko still ranks first in goals for all players selected in the 2019 Draft with 19 tallies. He also ranks second in points with 40. All the signs are pointing upwards for him. It’s certainly earned him some notoriety in his hometown.

“Someone recognizes you – they usually say something to their friend when I pass by,” Kakko smiled. “Strawberry sellers start to shrink when we take photos at the market. So that’s how it goes. At the summer market you can meet an NHL star.”

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