With the streets buzzing at his arrival in Manhattan, the anticipation for Kakko to become successful was tremendous. Additionally, in the middle of a rebuild, Kakko couldn’t have come at a better time. Now, with his rookie season over, let’s take a look at Kakko’s production from his first season, and what I expect him to do in his sophomore year in the NHL.
Kakko’s Rookie Year
I’ve said this time and time again, not every first-round pick will pan out to be better than those that came before them. For Jack Hughes, Kaapo Kakko, and Kirby Dach, they definitely know the feeling. None of these guys had outstanding rookie seasons to the like’s of which we’ve seen most notably with Auston Matthews a few years prior….which is perfectly fine. Each player develops differently, and one thing that projected stats do not take into account is the player’s personal life. For Kakko, this is most definitely true when talking about his challenging transition into the NHL. Kakko came to America a few months before his life-changing draft days. From there, he would begin acclimating to a new language, a different culture, and the biggest city in America. For an eighteen-year-old kid, that is certainly very tough to do.
However, Kaapo Kakko handled being thrown into the spotlight with maturity. Although he did not speak the most fluent English, it was evident that he held himself to a high standard; sometimes too high of a standard causing him to become stressed at his large role as a Ranger. Nevertheless, Kakko managed to tally 10 goals, 13 assists, and 23 points in his first NHL season. That being said, Kakko is only scraping the surface at his seemingly endless amount of potential. Sure he had his ups and downs, but his hard work certainly paid off in his playoff appearances. After spending months overseas during the shutdown to train with Rangers goaltender, Alexandar Georgiev, it was obvious that his time and dedication was reflecting in his play.
After being away from Kakko for so long before the playoffs started in August, his appearance on the ice was different. He looked bigger, faster, stronger, and most importantly, he looked confident. Not only did Kakko recognize his weaknesses within his first season, we saw a glimpse of the improvements he made while being back at home in Finland. Overall, his determination to improve over a small time frame reveals a lot about his dedicated personality.
With his first season in the books, it appears Kaapo Kakko has had a weight lifted from his shoulders. The anticipation of his arrival in New York was met with challenging obstacles that he had to overcome. We got to see Kakko develop physically, and mentally, over the past season. The good news is, he is not even close to being done. Over the next few years, I believe we are going to see Kaapo Kakko blossom into one of the best forwards in the game. Needless to say, Kakko has raw talent that many other players simply lack. Not only does he have a knack for the game, but he also has a knack for wanting to become better. Thanks to his determination and skill, I believe Kakko is certainly set up for success in the near future.
Although I have never been one to predict players’ future stats, I will give it a shot. In my opinion, I believe Kakko will put up 15 goals, 30 assists, and 45 points this season. Doubling his stats would be an amazing accomplishment, and I don’t think it is too far out of sight. With Kakko’s deadly shot, smooth hands, and puck possession, he could most definitely become a daily contributor. Especially on a depth hungry team like The New York Rangers. As many fans know, The Rangers must acquire point contributions from all players on the team to be successful. Far too many games are usually aided with the help of Mika Zibanejad and Artemi Panarin. With the rise of Kakko and the addition of Lafreniere, The Rangers young talented forwards could be a huge bonus on an already such an offensively oriented team.
Knowing His Role
The only concern I have for Kaapo Kakko is the possibility of him not focusing on his role. I’ve seen many clips of him during his hockey career where his talent truly shines. Towards the beginning of the season, Kakko had trouble understanding where he fits in. It appeared as if he was hesitant towards shooting, skating, and controlling the game. Now that he has worked out some kinks, I think he finally realizes where he fits in. This is a kid that can command the game with his silky hands and puck position; and for far too long, Kakko hardly displayed his talent.
Now that he knows that he is more than capable of playing in this league, I would like to see some confidence in his play. From the drop of the puck, Kakko should control the game like the way he has done for his whole life. If he sticks to his ways and plays hard, sprinkles in a little bit of swag, then the sky is the limit for Kakko’s potential.
Although Kakko lacks some experience and wisdom in the NHL, ultimately, his ability to outwork, and outperform everyone on the ice will most definitely prevail. Whether that happens in the first game of the season, or in the last game of the season, Kaapo Kakko will be a name worth remembering.