Rangers options if looking to trade Kaapo Kaako, move up in 1st round of 2024 NHL Draft

NHL: Winnipeg Jets at New York Rangers
Danny Wild-USA TODAY SportsCredit: Danny Wild-USA TODAY Sports

If the New York Rangers are considering using Kaapo Kakko as bait to move up in the first round of the 2024 NHL Draft this weekend, it’d be a twist after they recently signed the forward to a one-year, $2.4 million contract. It would also mean they’d be selling low on the former No. 2 overall pick in 2019.

But Larry Brooks reported in the New York Post on Monday that’s exactly a route the Rangers are exploring.

“This is sort of a sell-low scenario but sources report that Drury is also attempting to use Kakko in conjunction with the club’s own 30th-overall selection to move up in the first round,” Brooks wrote.

Such a move would have two benefits for the Rangers. First, they’d move up to select a more desirable player in the first round, which is important because they do not have a second- nor third-round pick this year.

Second, Kakko’s salary would come off the books and up New York’s projected salary cap space to roughly $16 million. That’s a pretty robust number, also boosted by the Rangers saving $3.6 million when Barclay Goodrow was claimed off waivers by the San Jose Sharks.

That could set the Blueshirts up to consider a bigger-name free agent, including right wing options Jake Guentzel, Jonathan Marchessault, Sam Reinhart or Tyler Toffoli.

The down side to such a Kakko trade could be that he finally figures it out and matures into a 20-goal scorer, to go along with his strong work along the boards and defensively. Of course, there are many who question whether Kakko needs a fresh start somewhere else anyway and/or that the player himself would prefer such a move.

But that’s not the Rangers concern in this exercise.

Related: Alexis Lafreniere not expected to get contract extension with Rangers this offseason

Rangers trade options with Kaapo Kakko

NHL: Stanley Cup Playoffs-New York Rangers at Washington Capitals
Geoff Burke-USA TODAY SportsCredit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

There are likely many NHL teams who believe they could turn Kakko around into the player the Rangers thought they were drafting after Jack Hughes in 2019. He’s still only 23 and you can see the high skill level, if not the consistent production.

Kakko scored 13 goals and had 19 points this season, missing 21 games following a knee injury. He scored only one goal in the Stanley Cup Playoffs and was scratched in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Final against the Florida Panthers. In 2022-23, Kakko had NHL career highs with 18 goals and 40 points.

Teams like the Carolina Hurricanes and Colorado Avalanche have star players from Finland already on their rosters. The thought being that Sebastian Aho in Carolina, or Mikko Rantanen in Colorado, could help bring out the best in the Finland-born Kakko.

Neither, though, is a good trade fit for the Rangers when considering New York’s desire to move up in the draft. Colorado selects No. 24 overall in the first round and Carolina sits at No. 27. The Rangers, at No. 30, need to move up higher to consider trading Kakko.

There are two teams, though, that could be excellent fits, dependent, of course, if they hold Kakko in high regard.

Let’s start with the Sharks. No, they’re not trading the No. 1 overall pick. They’re going to hold on to that and select Macklin Celebrini from Boston University. But they have a second first-rounder, No. 14 overall, acquired from the Pittsburgh Penguins last summer in the mega Erik Karlsson trade.

As it stands today, Kakko would be a top-six winger for the Sharks, maybe even a linemate for Celebrini. Kakko would be a low-cost option with high upside and give the Sharks a young NHL player with some pedigree (and questions) instead of another draft pick they’ll need to develop.

You’d have to think Chris Drury and Co. would be thrilled to land the No. 14 overall selection for pick No. 30 and Kakko, and/or whatever else might complete the trade.

In a similar vein, the Chicago Blackhawks could be a potential trade partner for the Rangers, too. Like the Sharks, they’re a bottom feeder right now in the NHL and have a high pick (No. 2 overall) after selecting Connor Bedard No. 1 overall last year. The Blackhawks also have the No. 18 overall pick this year, following a trade with the New York Islanders.

Chicago has the salary cap room to land a big-time player or two, they’ve been linked to Guentzel in free agency and Patrik Laine (another Finland-born player) in trade. Perhaps Chicago would have the appetite to trade down, acquire Kakko as an affordable option and keep buying in the high-rent district. It’s very plausible, IF they believe in Kakko, which is the unknown here.

That No. 18 pick would interest Drury, you’d have to think, though No. 14 is obviously more desirable and makes it more palatable to risk moving Kakko.

Right now, only Drury knows what his plans are, since he holds his cards close to the vest. But if this is indeed a path he’s exploring, the Rangers do have options moving up in the first round this weekend in Las Vegas.

Jim Cerny is Executive Editor at Forever Blueshirts and Managing Editor at Sportsnaut, with more than 30 years of... More about Jim Cerny

Mentioned in this article:

More About: