A Little Bit of Luck helps the New York Rangers land Kakko

New York Rangers

Luck came through on Draft Lottery night for the New York Rangers. They moved up four spots and have maybe the best draft position this year. At second overall they won’t have to make the choice between Jack Hughes or Kaapo Kakko. It will be made for them by the Draft Lottery winners, the New Jersey Devils.

Although Kaapo Kakko has closed the gap on Jack Hughes for the top ranked player in this year’s NHL Entry Draft, the belief is that Kakko will be going to the New York Rangers second overall. The dominant winger will inject new life into the Rangers line-up. New York has been openly rebuilding for just over a year and couldn’t be happier with how things have gone since the famous “Rebuild Letter”.

Who is Kaapo Kakko?

Kakko is a 6’2″, 190lbs forward who has the flexibility to play all three positions up front, although he has primarily played the wing this season with TPS in the Liiga, the top league in his native Finland. He began the year as the clear number two prospect behind Hughes but between his heroics at the World Junior Championship where he scored the golden goal for team Finland or his domination during his record breaking year in the Liiga, he has proven to be more than capable of warranting consideration at the top of the draft.

The Finnish forward is a truly dominant offensive force. This year he set the goal scoring record for a player 18-years-old or younger. He scored 22 goals in 45 games breaking the record previously held by Aleksander Barkov.

Kakko is a very good play-maker. His penchant for scoring goals largely came after the world juniors. He seemed to recognize that while his line-mates weren’t capitalizing on their scoring chances and went into a dominating run of play that truly sparked his rise towards Jack Hughes previously uncontested top draft rank.

Tweet courtesy of @JokkeNevalainen of Dobber Prospects

A Complete Player

The label of sniper is often misused on the young Finn, not because he isn’t a good sniper or goal scorer. It’s misused because Kakko is much more than a traditional sniper. He is very much a complete offensive player. He is strong on the puck and battles to keep it when the puck is loose. His ability to quickly change directions and think two step ahead often lead to great scoring chances for himself and his teammates. Below is a video, courtesy of Jokke Nevalainen of Dobber Prospects, where although Kakko fails to score, he dominates the puck and hangs onto possession until a scoring chance arises.

Tweet courtesy of @JokkeNevalainen of Dobber Prospects

Kakko is a great skater and his edges are superb. His stop-and-start ability is a difference maker in the offensive zone as defenders are not able to react to his stutter step. He creates space and takes advantage of his ability to be a dual threat passer and shooter.

Kakko has proven able to play with men in the Finnish league, using his strength and good edges to protect the puck against defenders on the cycle. He often corrals the puck with one hand on the stick and one arm holding off a defender. His strength will likely need improvement in the NHL as his body will continue to mature and his off ice training will focus on taking the 82-game NHL season. The play below exemplifies Kakko’s ability to be strong in the puck and work his way into a dangerous position.

The flashy forward has shown a commitment to the defensive side of the game and uses his elite hockey IQ to be in the right position at the right time. His speed and smarts help him intercept passes and lift opposing players sticks to create turnovers and regain possession of the puck. His mature style of play makes him a prime candidate to not only jump right into the NHL, but to excel almost instantly.

Offensive Driver

What Kakko is most known for is his offensive tool set. The hyper skilled forward plays a mature game. His decision making is outstanding and he is consistently thinking two steps ahead of the players around him. He uses his elite hockey IQ to make every player on his team better.

Although Kakko may be a complete player, there is a reason he developed the sniper tag. He has scored numerous highlight real goals with his NHL ready shot. He is able to get to open ice and create a shot for himself. As a play driving force, Kakko is able to score goals from any area of the ice. Whether working off the boards of cutting down the wing on a rush, he is a prolific offensive talent. His willingness and ability to shoot from anywhere makes him a dangerous offensive player from anywhere on the ice.

Tweet courtesy of @JokkeNevalainen of Dobber Prospects

The above tweet from Jokke Nevaliainen shows Kaapo Kakko’s 22nd goal of the year, most by any U18 player in Liiga history. It’s an exhibition of just how dangerous Kakko can be as he takes on shot and immediately collect the rebound and creates a play by moving down-low taking advantage of the goalie not knowing which side Kakko would emerge from behind the net.

Kakko will immediately improve the Rangers

Kakko should step into the Rangers line-up on opening night of the season. His dynamic ability to change the game offensively will add an element to New York’s team that it’s sorely been missing. With the Rangers ability to pair Kakko with a player like Mika Zibanejad on the Rangers will allow both players to excel as dual threats creating a match made in heaven. Both players possess the ability to finish a play as well as create scoring chances for their teammates.

Along with Kakko, the infusion of youth in the Rangers lineup will likely include their first round pick from last season in Vitali Kravtsov. A skilled winger who is currently playing with a very poor Traktor Chelyabinsk team in the KHL. While his stats are good, when compared to current NHLers who played in the KHL at the same age there is some variance. One reason for this could be the fact that he isn’t on a premier team. If you look at his contribution percentage in the chart below, provided by @statboy_steven on twitter, you see that he is doing everything in his own power to will his team to victory.

The addition of both Kakko and Kravtsov to the rangers roster in the fall will help bolster the rebuilding franchise and continue the youth movement that players like Lias Andersson and Filip Chytil began this year. The continued infusion of youth into the lineup is a sign of things to come for the Rangers.

What does it all mean?

While many fans are worried about the Rangers possibly messing this all up, drafting someone ranked outside of the top ten and failing to seize this golden opportunity, the worries should be tempered. The Rangers brain-trust may not make every decision perfectly aligned with fan commentary, but this is a decision they can’t mess up unless they were trying. Kakko is a player that, in most years, would go with the top overall pick. The top end of this draft is full of high end talent, with the top two choices being superstars in the making.

General Manager Jeff Gorton will sprint to the podium as soon as the Devils announce Jack Hughes as the top overall pick, knowing they are getting a first overall caliber player. The offensive dynamo will likely start the season with the Rangers in the fall and provide an immediate scoring punch. The 18-year-old Finn is far and away the best player in this draft not named Jack Hughes. It’s not a farce to say he’s the best player in this draft. Period. The Rangers were gifted the win in the draft lottery and fans should rejoice. Kakko helps accelerate the rebuild. The New York Rangers have found their next superstar.

For more on the NHL, follow me here at @TheTonyFerrari on twitter!

All stats and info is from eliteprospects.com, DobberProspects.com, hockey-reference.com and NHL.com

Tweets/Video courtesy of Jokke Nevalainen of Dobber Prospects and Finn Prospects.

Feature image is credited to Nikos Michals

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Author: Tony Ferrari

Born in Ottawa, Ontario and raised in Windsor, Tony has loved hockey his entire life. Growing up as the lone Maple Leafs fan in a household of Red Wings fans, he followed both teams since he was a child. Having been through Toronto’s rebuild as a fan, Tony is ecstatic to be along for the ride and watch the Wings get back to their glory days. Having previously written about the Detroit Lions, Tony looks forward to bringing you content from the hockey world in a series of deep dive articles and analytical points of view that can help you better understand the little things we don’t all notice because they don’t show up on the stats sheet.