Mike Rupp sees breakout for Kaapo Kakko with Rangers

Kaapo Kakko is entering his fifth NHL season at the tender age of just 22 years-old, and one expert believes he’s ready to breakout. In late August, NHL Network Analyst and Stanley Cup champion Mike Rupp said that Kakko should breakout this year.

“His development as far as production hasn’t been to where his draft status was,” he said on NHL Network. “He’s been sheltered, but he’ll get more minutes because he plays a position [right wing] that will bode well for him.”

Rupp is acknowledging the fact that the New York Rangers are thin on the right side since Vladimir Tarasenko and Patrick Kane are no longer with the team. However, personnel isn’t the only reason why he feels Kakko will excel.

“He’s also developed other areas of his game that makes coaches want to put him on the ice,” Rupp adds. “He protects pucks very well. He’s good on the forecheck and he’s starting to learn how to use his size.”

Mike Rupp sees breakout for Kaapo Kakko

Kaapo Kakko New York Rangers
Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports

Last season was a good one for the second overall pick in the 2019 Draft. Kakko scored 18 goals, 22 assists, for 40 points in 82 games which were all career-highs. During the postseason, he added 2 points (1 goal, 1assist) in 7 matches. 

Forever Blueshirts invited Mike Rupp to expand on his thoughts regarding Kakko and here’s what he had to say.

The one thing I do know about him, especially with a new coach in Peter Laviolette coming in and from watching Kakko over the last number of years…he does so many good things coaches love,” Rupp explained.

Although Kakko’s 2022-23 campaign was promising, many feel he should be further along in his development. Rupp noted that to us and believes his luck should change.

“I get it,” he exclaimed. “The scoresheet– he’s a little snakebitten at times. He hasn’t really found that touch in the NHL consistently with scoring goals.

“But coaches want to know that guys can hold onto pucks, get in there on the forecheck and compete and these are all areas where he thrives. His underlying numbers are actually fantastic in those categories so he’s going to get an opportunity. I also think Peter Laviolette is going to love him and what he brings which will solidify those opportunities.”

Everything Rupp identifies is very evident on the ice. Kakko has shown uncanny ability to control play along the boards and generate scoring opportunities. What that skill has yet to translate to is higher production, but that should change playing top-six minutes.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s pushing high 20s, possibly 30 goals this year,” Rupp concludes. “I’m excited to watch him play because I think he’s put in the time and it’s his time to shine now.”

Kakko is entering the final season of a two-year deal with an AAV of $2.1 million he signed in 2022. He will be a restricted free agent with arbitration rights next summer and will be looking to cash in on a successful season.

There’s no doubt he has a little extra incentive coming into 2023-24, but it will be incumbent on Kakko to seize the opportunity in front of him. In the end, it will benefit everyone.

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