Recharged Kaapo Kakko for Rangers could be Hurricanes worst nightmare

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Kaapo Kakko #2 pick overall 2019 (Bruce Bennet/Getty Images)

The Rangers are in it to win it. This has been relayed by both head coach, David Quinn and star center, Mika Zibanejad. We also know any championship aspirations will ride on the sticks of players like him, Artemi Panarin, Chris Kreider, and Tony DeAngelo.

In the same breath, we know Rod Brind’Amour and his Hurricanes will be game planning to shut those players down. That’s why I started looking for X-factors. The first was Adam Fox on defense, and now it’s Kaapo Kakko at forward.

Kaapo Kakko needed a break

If there was ever a player that needed a break, it’s 19 year old Kaapo Kakko. The kid was making a huge transition at 18 from Finland. He also had to learn the defensive game on a smaller ice surface with the best players in the world and his -26 is evidence of that.

Whether you like that stat are not, it’s there for a simple view that he was on the ice for too many goals against. Obviously adjusting to the NHL played a role but also fatigue was a factor.

Last season, Kakko played a combined 98 games between Finnish league play and international contests. Fatigue doesn’t have to be just physical, a lot could be mental and that seemed to be the issue in many games this season for the rookie.

Kakko (Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

Kaapo Kakko could be a force for the Rangers

His two biggest problems this season were holding on to the puck too long and not shooting enough. In 66 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.

The Rangers will need Kakko to be a force on the third line and 2nd PP unit. If he can come out of the gate strong, he could propel the team for a round or two. That will be a big help, especially if it takes awhile for Panarin and Zibanejad to get going.

Kakko is recharged and has no COVID-19 fears

Since the Rangers opened camp on Monday, everyone has noted how good Kakko looks. He seems recharged and his coach, David Quinn has noticed that as well. A refreshed Kakko could help when the Rangers look for that secondary and tertiary scoring in the playoffs.

Aside from coming back renewed, there was some doubt that Kakko, due to his diabetes may not play. The Rangers 2nd overall pick in the 2019 Draft put aside those concerns and is ready to go.

“I talked with our doctors about that a little bit, and I think if I keep my sugars down, it’s going to be OK,” Kakko said. “I want to play and I’m so young. My diabetes is OK right now.”

Lohud

The Finnish Force is ready to take flight. His rookie season was fine with flashes of star power here and there. While many expected him to challenge for rookie of the year, he simply didn’t. These playoffs could be a way different story. Kakko may just take off like a rocket and never come back down again.

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