Wayne Simmonds

New Jersey Devils: Can Simmonds Have A Resurgence In Newark?

featured image photo credit – Dinur Blum

The New Jersey Devils have continued their resurgence from last place in the Eastern Conference to looking like a more prominent force in a very difficult division. In an offseason highlighted by drafting Jack Hughes and trading for P.K. Subban, they now add to that by bringing in another former Nashville Predators in Wayne Simmonds.

The Devils brought in Simmonds on a 1-year, $5.5 million contract in a free agency. Simmonds lost some value on what was considered a down year for the 30-year old winger. The Scarborough, Ontario native tallied just 17 goals and 13 assists last season between the Philadelphia Flyers and the Nashville Predators after having 2 seasons with 60 points and another 2 with 50+ points with the Flyers. His defense and intensity level has still been something that Simmonds has brought season in and season out. However, with him getting older and speed/pace of the game changing, he isn’t the same forward that he once was. That was evident last season even in a Nashville Predators defensive system which has always been phenomenal throughout their franchise history, but even better recently.

Devils Got A Great Deal 

Despite the drop in production and slight decline skillset wise, the Devils still got him on a favorable deal at $5.5 million. The Devils need all the offensive depth they can get. They are a very young team and need supporting cast for their two young centers in Hughes and 2017 #1 pick Nico Hischier. Simmonds is a sniper that can definitely help one of those centers’ playmaking ability and elevate their assist totals if he’s on his game like he was from 2013-17 with the Flyers.

The Devils need other guys to be 20-goal scorers to create two strong lines. For their third line, the Devils will need to use the young players with upside. Both, Kyle Palmieri and Taylor Hall are trustworthy options on the wing spots for the Devils to score 20+ goals, and they also got a surprising 22-goal year out of Blake Coleman last year. So most likely, Simmonds will have to start out on the second line, maybe the third line in some head-to-head matchups. However, if chemistry starts to evolve with certain players, Simmonds is definitely capable of being a first line contributor if he fits the system.

Confidence In Simmonds?

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However, his tenure with Nashville last year doesn’t really show promise in terms of having confidence that a rise would happen. He only scored 1 goal and 2 assists in 17 regular season games, and as a result he only played in 2 playoff games where he was scoreless. He was decent defensively in those games and in that Nashville system as a whole, but the struggle to score definitely was concerning. But like I said earlier, there are certain teams that have to take those kinds of chances to rebirth a player, and I think it makes sense for the Devils to do that, especially in a Metropolitan division where a lot of teams have improved and was overly deep to begin with.

The Washington Capitals won the cup last year, the Carolina Hurricanes and New York Islanders were big surprises, the New York Rangers just signed Artemi Panarin and traded for Jacob Trouba, the Pittsburgh Penguins just traded for Alex Galchenyuk despite losing Phil Kessel, so it seemed evident that the Devils needed to do something else to keep up. Plus, it didn’t seem like a panic move either, because it was only $5.5 million, on a Devils team that isn’t terribly cash-strapped with the exception of P.K. Subban’s contract. Therefore, it made sense for the value, and the Devils will just have to hope that Simmonds can rebound after a poor campaign.

Is A Rebound Realistic?

How realistic is it that he finds his groove again like he did in 2013-17 with the Flyers?

One factor is that the Devils’ overall offensive depth is not nearly as strong as that of the Flyers or the Predators. While Jack Hughes can be a next big thing type player and Nico Hischier has strong upside as well, they aren’t at the same level as Claude Giroux, Jakub Voracek, Sean Couturier, Filip Forsberg, Ryan Johansen and Viktor Arvidsson. Hughes will definitely get there and Hischier can get there, but the question will be how much it will work this season. In any sport, there have been situations where weaker rosters have worked with certain players due to chemistry. But, that’s a wild card situation. It looks to be more of a slight negative with the Devils having some unknowns, especially if Taylor Hall can’t stay healthy like he couldn’t last year, playing in only 33 games.

Advanced Possession Metrics

The other factor I looked at is how the game has changed through the analytics that scouts and general managers judge players on now. These metrics have been something that might illustrate his small drop in production last year, and even in years where his raw point production has still been good. Both, his relative Fenwick and Corsi metrics have been in the negatives the last 3 seasons, including a -2.4% relative Corsi and -3.2% relative Fenwick rating with the Nashville Predators. Also, in terms of puck possession metrics, both his Fenwick percentage and Corsi percentage have been under 50% each of the last 4 seasons. Part of that has to do with the Flyers’ very physical style of play with their forwards and him playing with that style throughout his career even with the Kings and Predators. However, some of that also has to do with the speed of the game and Simmonds not being an overly fast skater and great overall puck handler, which is important in a puck possession game today. On the positive side, Simmonds’ physicality can help get guys off the puck very effectively, especially with the way he hits. Not to mention, the Devils have always been more of a defensive team both historically and recently, so I think he should have a smoother transition into that system than others.

Good Signing For The Value

So overall, the Devils signing Simmonds at $5.5 million should be a good signing for that value. It’s hard for me to believe that his overall production will be 30 points again like it was last season. It will be a prove it contract for both Simmonds and the Devils. But, Simmonds needs to find chemistry quickly with Hischier or Hughes, otherwise he might be a fringe player after this season.

stats from hockey-reference.com

New Jersey Devils

New Jersey Devils: Acquire P.K. Subban

The New Jersey Devils made the biggest splash on the Draft Floor when they acquired P.K. Subban from the Nashville Predators for a package of draft picks and Steven Santini and Jeremy Davies.

 

Devils Take

While it is difficult to gauge the results of the trade right away, it is fun to speculate as to how this plays out. Firstly, P.K. Subban is an upgrade on most blue-lines. He is a talented puck mover with a hard point shot and excellent skating ability. While his defense is less than stellar, he is no slouch, and he adds scoring potential and bolsters a team’s power play. Coming off his worst statistical season, Subban’s play led the Predators to sell low on the former Norris Trophy Winner. The Devils are hoping that Subban can return to form and justify the $9M per year price tag.

A realistic expectation for New Jersey fans would be to get 50 to 55 points from Subban, and he could eat up 22 to 24 minutes a night, while manning the top power play. 

For the return they sent back, Devils General Manager Ray Shero and the team came out ahead in this trade.

Grade: B+

Predators Take

As the rumors of the lower than expected salary cap became more realistic, the idea of a P.K. Subban trade was evident. The Nashville Predators had ~$77M in team salary committed to next season, with a few glaring holes to fill. They have been rumored to be one of the leading clubs to land Unrstricted Free Agent Matt Duchene. Assuming Dante Fabro makes the leap to full-time NHLer, he will likely slot in the top 4, which leaves Santini to fill in the bottom pair.

I think the two 2nd round picks are an underwhelming return, getting Davies in the deal was a bit of a sweetener. He is a talented offensive defenseman that just signed his Entry Level Contract. Playing at Northeastern University, he netted eight goals and 28 assists in 37 games. He will likely join the Milwaukee Admirals next season, Nashville’s American Hockey League affiliate, and make a worthwhile extra defenseman, if injury forces the situation.

Grade: C

Summary

Overall, I think this was a pretty good hockey trade that was dictated from a Devils position of strength. Any other year, this would have been a horrifying trade for the Predators, but their cap situation and a down year by Subban forced Nashville General Manager Dave Poille’s hand.

Statistics provided by TSN

Featured Image Photo Credit: Nikos Michals

Puck 77 NHL Draft Scouting Reports

We’ve compiled all of the scouting reports done by the various members of the Puck77 team for the NHL Draft here in one easy location so you can jump right to the player you want!

Our Top-12

1. 🇺🇸 Jack Hughes, C, USNTDP: Deep Dive Scouting Report on Jack Hughes by Tony Ferrari

2. 🇫🇮 Kaapo Kakko, RW, TPS (Liiga): Deep Dive Scouting Report of Kaapo Kakko by Tony Ferrari

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3. 🇺🇸 Alex Turcotte, C, USNTDP: Deep Dive Scouting Report on Alex Turcotte by Tony Ferrari

4. 🇨🇦 Bowen Byram, LHD, Vancouver Giants (WHL): Deep Dive Scouting Report on Bowen Byram by Tony Ferrari

5. 🇺🇸 Trevor Zegras, C/LW, USNTDP: Deep Dive Scouting Report on Trevor Zegras by Tony Ferrari

6. 🇨🇦 Dylan Cozens, C, Lethbridge Hurricanes (WHL): Deep Dive Scouting Report on Dylan Cozens by Tony Ferrari

7. 🇺🇸 Cole Caufield, LW, USNTDP: Deep Dive Scouting Report on Cole Caufield by Tony Ferrari

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8. 🇨🇦 Kirby Dach, C, Saskatoon Blades (WHL): Deep Dive Scouting Report on Kirby Dach by Tony Ferrari

9. 🇨🇦 Alex Newhook, C, Vancouver Grizzlies (BCHL): Deep Dive Scouting Report on Alex Newhook by Tony Ferrari

10. 🇨🇦 Peyton Krebs, C, Kootenay/Winnipeg Ice (WHL): Deep Dive Scouting Report on Peyton Krebs by Tony Ferrari

11. 🇺🇸 Matthew Boldy, RW, USNTDP: Deep Dive Scouting Report on Matthew Boldy by Tony Ferrari

12. 🇷🇺 Vasili Podkolzin, RW, SKA St. Petersburg (KHL): Deep Dive Scouting Report on Vasili Podkolzin by Tony Ferrari

Other Intriguing Prospects

2019 NHL Draft: What makes Philip Tomasino such an intriguing prospect? by Spencer Loane

2019 NHL Draft Deep Dive: Arthur Kaliyev by Spencer Teixeira

NHL Draft Profile: Nolan Foote by Spencer Teixeira

Come back for more profiles as they are updated and added! Thanks for stopping by!

NHL Draft Profile Jack Hughes

The likely top overall pick in this years NHL draft doesn’t have as tight a grip on the top selection as he did at the start of the season. While Kappo Kakko has closed on Hughes position, the American center has solidified his spot as the next great player to come out of the US National Team Development Program. 

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Name: Jack Hughes

Date of Birth: May 14th, 2001

Nationality (Place of Birth): American (Orlando, FL, USA)

Hieght: 5’10”

Weight: 170lbs

Shoots: Left

Position: Center

Rankings

Ranked #1 by TSN/McKenzie

Scouting Report

The above spider graph, courtesy of Kyle Pereira of Puck77, displays the available data from Will Scouch. As shown, Jack Hughes was a dominant force in many ways. He was exceptional at driving play at 5-on-5 and he is a powerplay wizard. Finishing no worse than third among the 11 prospects on the graph, Hughes clearly stands out. As a player who is able to attack the game in a variety of ways, Hughes will immediately step into and NHL locker room and be a contributor right away. 

At just 5’10” you would prefer Hughes to have more size but the way he plays the game, it’s not an issue. The diminutive center isn’t a perimeter player as many would assume due to his size, rather he lives in the middle of the ice. Hughes ability to get to the middle of the ice unabated is impressive. In the video below, Hughes begins the play by picking the puck up behind the net and then picks up some speed with the puck. At that point he makes an excellent breakout pass and then uses his speed to accelerate through the neutral zone before receiving a return pass. Hughes makes a few cuts and changes direction, cutting to the net. A pass back against the flow of direction which results in a goal. 

Tweet courtesy of @StarsStripesHKY

Hughes skating ability is otherworldly. His skating will be elite in the NHL already and he doesn’t have just straight line speed. His edge work is phenomenal as he is able to cut in either direction on a dime. He skates like a speedy NFL running back in the sense that he can make a move in any direction without notice. This skill is key in making Hughes transition game elite entering the NHL. His ability to create space with subtle changes in his skating whether it be changing direction or changing speeds is unmatched in this draft class.

With an electric offence game, Hughes has taken over games in a scorer and a playmaker role. His calling card is the ability to make the ice feel spacious for his teammates while controlling the puck and pushing the ice of play. His tape-to-rape passing ability is a thing of beauty. Whether backhand or forehand, the American is an extremely high-end passer who can break a game open by drawing defenders to him before threading a pass through traffic onto the stick of his teammates. Below you can see that Hughes displays excellent vision. After entering the offensive zone he drops a pass to the oncoming Cam York and then continues to the slot. Receiving the return pass from York, Hughes makes no mistake by putting the puck in the back of the net.

Tweet courtesy of @TSN_Sports

Defensively Hughes has all the tools to compete and excel in his own end. He may not be overly physical and won’t muscle an opponent off of the puck but he didn’t refrain from battling in the corners. More adept at using his good stick to pull the puck out of a scrum. His positioning in the defensive zone is good and he is skilled at recognizing a play and getting in the passing lanes braking up plays before they become dangerous.

Preseason Outlook

Coming into the 2018-19 season, Jack Hughes was touted as the clear number one prospect for this draft. His star had been on the rise for years. His play for the USNTDP team as well as both the U17 squads and U18 squads were absolutely outstanding. He was a force to be reckoned with regardless if he was playing with his age group or a year ahead.

Coming off of a season in which he was the highest scoring U17 player in USNDTP history, expectations started extremely high for the speedy center. Last season Hughes split time between the Under-17 and Under 18-teams. Excelling at both levels, Hughes put up 68 points in 37 games with Under 18s and 48 points in 24 games with the Under 17s. Capturing a gold medal at the U17 World Hockey Challenge and a silver medal at the IIHF Under-18 World Championship. To say he had a dominant year would be an understatement.

Draft Year with USNTDP

Jack Hughes has dominated this year. He draft season almost couldn’t have gone better. His proficiency has been displayed at every level and every event he’s played in this year. A dominant performance with the USNTDP where he put up 112 points (34 G/74 A) in just 50 games was the prime destination to see him play. The skilled center was a force in every game he played. His skill was evident at all times, with and without the puck.

Video courtesy of Hockey Prospect Center Youtube channel

With 74 assists, he proved that his playmaking ability is exceptional beyond belief. He was a constant threat to put the puck on the tape of a player in position to score. Passing from behind the net, across the ice or into the slot from the half wall, Hughes can make any pass. He was unwavering in his ability to make the smart and efficient pass from the defensive zone and then opening himself up for a return pass. An underrated part in Hughes game, much like many superstars, is the small passes that he makes to alleviate pressure from opposing players. This skill is both underrated and integral to a players capacity to play in all three zones.

His game is consistently rose to an even higher level at international tournaments. Whether it was his record setting performance in the U18 World Championships in April or the point-per-game pace he established at the World Juniors (U20) Championships just after Christmas, Hughes has proven to be a difference maker on every occasion.

Video courtesy of Puck Prodigy Youtube channel

U18’s and IIHF World Championships

The captain of an absolutely stacked American U18 team, Hughes shone like the star he is. The team ran into a hot goalie in Russia’s Yaroslav Askarov, a 2020 draft eligible goalie, in the semi-finals led to a disappointing bronze medal finish. Although the teams goals and expectation of a gold medal were not met, Hughes had an outstanding tournament. Hughes dominated in every facet of the game. His skating was on full display and his offensive precision was mouth-watering. Able to set players around him up or take control and score a goal at will, Hughes U18 tournament was absolutely dominate. 

The chemistry with Cole Caufield that was established throughout the season with the USNTDP was a major factor for both players record setting tournaments. While much was made of Caufield tying Alexander Ovechkin’s tournament record for goals (14 goals in seven games), Hughes was setting records of his own. After collecting 12 points at last year’s tournament, the 20 points he scored this year were good enough to eclipse Ovechkin’s all-time tournament record of 31 points with 32. Hughes’ nearly unprecedented run at the World U18 tournament helped earn him a spot on the Men’s IIHF World Hockey Championship.

Video courtesy of Hockey Prospect Center Youtube channel

Despite making the World Championship roster, Hughes was not able to make a difference for the American team. He wasn’t afforded the same opportunity as Kakko at the men’s tournament but it was a good eye-opening experience. Hughes had played a lot of hockey to this point and seemed a little bit gassed. In comparison, Kakko skipped the U18s in order to prepare for this tournament and ended up closing the gap on Hughes and even passed him in some evaluator’s eyes. Hughes struggled at times with the strength of the players from various men’s leagues around the world including the NHL. His best game may have come in his last game in which he had two assists. He finished with just three assists n the tournament. The young American played good for stretches but also clearly had his struggles when it came to competing physically. 

What the Detractors Say

There is no perfect player. Even some of the best in the world have their weaknesses. Many of Hughes is skills are impressive to say the least and will likely translate well to the NHL. The biggest knock on Hughes is the fact that he is a diminutive forward who isn’t a physical force on the ice. Hughes is also looked at as someone who can be seen floating in the defensive zone. This is often because he is almost always in position in his own end and floats in and out of passing lanes. Overall his biggest weakness is his size which is something that can’t be changed which means that it’s something a team will have to live with but the immense skill more than makes up for it.

Jack Hughes will be taken…

First overall most likely. Barring any major change or a catastrophic injury of some sort in training, there is little doubt that Hughes will be a New Jersey Devil come June’s NHL Entry Draft. While Kappo Kakko has closed the gap on the American, Hughes is still the top dog in this draft. While Kakko would likely be the top overall pick in many years, Hughes potential to be a franchise changing player has the Finn playing second fiddle.

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This year’s top-ranked prospect is going to be an NHL star in all likelihood. His speed, skill and playmaking ability will almost assuredly be flying up the ice in the black and red (and sometimes green) of the New Jersey Devils. With a one-two punch down the middle of Hughes and 2017 first overall pick Nico Hischier, the New Jersey Devils could be turning a page on the past and fully embrace the speed and skill, up-tempo offensive game of the modern NHL. Combining that with the possible re-signing of 2018 Hart Trophy winner Taylor Hall, the Devils may return to legitimacy in less time than most pundits anticipate. Jack Hughes will be the catalyst for that.

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

All stats and information provided by Hockey Reference, Elite ProspectsDobber Prospects and NHL.com

NHL Draft Profile: Kaapo Kakko

Maybe the most dominate player in the draft when going at his best, Kaapo Kakko is the only player to truly push Jack Hughes for the top spot in the 2019 NHL Entry Draft. Combining speed, power and elite stick-skills, he has played against men all season long, Kakko proved that he was the most NHL ready draft prospect.

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Name: Kaapo Kakko

Date of Birth: February 13, 2001

Nationality (Place of Birth): Finnish (Turku, Finland)

Hieght: 6’2″

Weight: 190lbs

Shoots: Left

Position: RW

Rankings

Ranked #2 by TSN/McKenzie

Scouting Report

The above spider graph, courtesy of Kyle Pereira of Puck77, displays the available data from Will Scouch. As shown, Kakko doesn’t excel in any of the categories above but he does grade out well in his NHL eScore. The reason for the middling statistical numbers above and the high NHL eScore is that Kakko played the entire season in the Liiga. This led to slightly muted production but despite that, Kakko isn’t at the bottom of any of the areas. His produtcion for his age group was elite. He broke records and he showed that not only can he play against men, he can produce at a high level as well.  

The young Fin is an exceptional skater. He has a powerful stride that aids in accelerating to his top-speed. He uses his edge work to change direction and has the ability to stop-and-start is exceptional. He is one of the best players in this class at protecting the puck while skating through the neutral zones and offensive zone. Kakko’s balance on his skates allows him to work along the boards and in the corners with efficiency even while playing against men in the Liiga, Finland’s top level league. Kakko plays with power and physicality in all aspects of his game. In the video below, you can see Kaapo Kakko as the primary puck carrier on the powerplay utilizing his teammates to open space for himself and the zone entry. Once in the zone, he doesn’t shoot the puck around the boards, rather he turns back looking for a pass. 

Tweet courtesy of @DraftLook

One of the biggest misnomers in the evaluations of Kakko is that he is an excellent sniper. This isn’t the case however. Kaapo Kakko is a very complete player. Defensively, Kakko tracks back into the zone like a center and does a good job of staying involved in the play in his own end. Kakko’s high hockey IQ allows him to follow plays and read the play as it develops. His positioning is sound and he regularly disrupts offensive plays for the other team. When the puck goes to the boards he is able to successfully battle for the puck, recovering and transitioning to offence with ease. Using his powerful stride and excellent agility to weave his way into the offensive zone.

Once into the offensive zone, the outstanding tools that Kakko possesses are able to show their true value. When Kakko is going full bore, he can’t be stopped. His ability to protect the puck, drive to the net with power and finish with soft hands in tight. In tight on the net, Kakko is able to gain position in front of the net or in the slot and make small adjustments to change the shooting angle. Kakko’s tool set includes the ability to score from anywhere on the ice. Kakko’s shot is hard and heavy, it comes off his stick lightning quick which causes goalies to be often unprepared for the shot. He locates his shot quite well from anywhere in the offensive zone. Below is an example of his outstanding shot. This shot from the point comes as he rotates to cover the pinching defender on the blue line and the retrieves an excellent pass for a one-timer. 

Tweet courtesy of @IIHFHockey

While not necessarily known for his playmaking ability, Kakko has excellent vision and delivers passes with precision and crisp pace. He has the hockey IQ to read and recognize where and when his teammates will be in prime scoring areas. The young Finn is able to drive the net and create space and drawing extra attention. The second that Kakko realizes where his teammates are in open space, he fires a pass on their tape. Kakko does an excellent job finding space for himself or others and then making passes that many players can’t because he reads the play better than most.

Preseason Outlook

Coming into the season Kakko was ranked second or third on almost all public draft boards. The dazzling Finn knew he’d be spending his season with TPS of the Liiga, the top men’s league in Finland. Kakko opted to attend the World Junior Showcase rather than the Hlinka-Gretzky tournament. A similar decision was made by other top prospects Jack Hughes and Dylan Cozens. Kakko didn’t blow anyone away at the showcase but he played a lessor role on a U20 squad as a 17-year-old. With the beginning of the Liiga season around the corner, the Showcase was merely a warm-up for what was still to come.

Deferring to teammates, Growing in the Liiga

At just 17 years of age, Kakko was set to spend the season in the Liiga. The top men’s league in his home nation of Finland was the perfect place for a physically mature player who dominated the junior level. Playing on TPS, a team expected to have a good season, Kakko started a bit timid. While he was putting up points at a good rate, he played to role of playmaker and relied on his high IQ and vision to make plays for his teammates to mediocre results. Deferring on good shot chances to set his teammates for marginally better chances despite a stark contrast in skill level in favour of Kakko often led to empty chances.

The first couple months of the season past and the production for Kakko was solid as he had nine goals and 20 points in 29 games, he was scoring at a pace that would come close to setting some age-17 season records in the Liiga. Kakko secured a spot on the Finnish World Junior U20 squad and despite being a young player, he was expected to play a large role on offence. After a successful tournament, shining on the world stage and coming home with the gold medal, Kakko’s confidence seemed to have grown.

Video courtesy of Hockey Prospect Center Youtube channel

Upon his return to TPS, Kakko began to exhibit his full skill set. The timidness and deferring that seemed to be evident in his game early in the season was gone. Replaced by a man possessed, Kakko began his true ascension to challenging for the top spot on the draft. The young Finn unleashed the power side of his game on his Liiga opponents, showing that although he was yet to grow into a man himself, he could play like a man amongst boys in a men’s league.

The second half tear for Kakko ended up driving him to a record breaking season. Battling against men, he showed his physical maturity compared to most 17/18-year-old players. His powerful skating and protection of the puck was key in being able to play his game in a league that rarely has effective players at Kakko’s stage of development play major roles. Kakko finished the season averaging north of 18 minutes a night, at times playing in all situations. His 22-goal campaign broke the record previously held by Alexander Barkov for draft eligible players in Liiga play. Kakko’s penchant for scoring was paying dividends during the second half of the season, which helped earn him a spot on the men’s IIHF World Championships team for his home country of Finland. Kakko continued to prove that he was not only worthy of being considered for the first overall pick, he should be taken in the if top spot.

Finland’s Finest

Video courtesy of Puck Prodigy Youtube channel

The international stage has been Kakko’s biggest stage all year. Initially he showed up huge for the Finnish World Junior U20 team as a 17-year-old. Then after his 18th birthday he was able to show his true potential and skill against men in the men’s IIHF World Championships. Showing up as a big-time player on the big stage has been the primary driving force for Kakko’s ascension to truly challenging Hughes for the top spot. 

In the World Junior Championships, Kakko played a huge role for the Finns. Despite being just 17 years of age, Kakko was able to manhandle players two years his senior. Scoring 5 points in seven games was impressive enough for a player at his age in a tournament traditionally dominated by 19-year-olds. The moment that Kakko will likely be remembered best for during his draft year may have come during this tournament. Going into the gold medal game against Jack Hughes and the United States, Kakko was the hero for his national team. The video below shows the biggest goal of Kakko’s young career. Kakko battled in front of the net, finding the loose puck after a shot from the point was lost in traffic. Kakko was able to put the Finnish team ahead with just over a minute remaining. 

Tweet courtesy of @DraftAnalyst

His follow-up international performance helped produce the same result, only this time at the men’s level. Following the elimination of his club team, TPS, from the Liiga playoffs, Kakko joined Finland’s entry into the IIHF World Hockey Championships. This was a chance to prove that the young Finn was ready for top competition. Having shown that he was able to play against men in the Liiga, this was a chance to prove that he could keep up with and compete with NHL caliber talent. To say he past this test would be an understatement. Kakko produced six goals and seven points in ten games, helping Finland to another gold medal. Despite having 0 NHL goals on the Finnish team and only two players to have played a game in the NHL this past season, Finland was not expected to be a factor at this tournament. Play began and the Liiga-player-led Finns were impressive to say the least, Kakko maybe among the most impressive. In the video below, Kakko does an excellent job finding space in the middle of the ice as he crosses the blue line to recieve the pass but then the magic happens. Kakko is tripped up by a diving Canadian defender, at which point the Finnish sensation performs a balancing act, going up on one leg and outlasting the Canadian netminder before tucking in a beautiful, highlight reel goal to open the tournament for the Finns. 

Tweet courtesy of @VinnieParise

What the Detractors Say

This may be the easiest prospect to pick out a weakness. There isn’t one really. His defensive game could improve a bit but he is already quite good in his own area. One of his weaknesses during the first half of the season was the fact that he was deferring too much to other more experienced players on TPS in Liiga. As the season wore on this became less of an issue as he was able to become more aggressive. The one thing that Kakko can do to continue to improve is to build muscle as he matures physically. Continuing to stay competitive and engaged once he arrives in the NHL will be key to any players progression and Kakko is no different. Kakko is a very complete player.

Kaapo Kakko will be taken…

Second overall, possibly first. Kaapo Kakko is clearly one of the top two prospects available for this draft. The gap between Kakko and Hughes had become smaller and smaller through the the season. Many around the scouting and prospect world feel that the talents levels of the two became razor thin, one way or the other, after the IIHF World Championships. Kakko played outstanding throughout the year, improving steadily all year long.

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The record setting year for the next great Finn was absolutely phenomenal. He deserves to be the first overall pick, and any other year he would probably be the clear cut number one. This year he headlines a draft that has two franchise talents, Hughes and himself, along with an extremely strong top half of the draft. Kakko’s complete game, offensive domination at times and his penchant for winning have all made him a can’t miss prospect that either the New Jersey Devils or New York Rangers will be able to build around for years to come.

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

All stats and information provided by Hockey Reference, Elite ProspectsDobber Prospects and NHL.com