Sweden

NHL Entry Draft: Top Swedish Draft Eligible Prospects

The biggest exporter of National Hockey League players from Europe is once again very notable, as the young Swedish prospects prepare to take on the next hurdle before the NHL.

Just 24 hours is all thats left before the National Hockey League Entry Draft starts in Vancouver and already its very clear that the Swedes are going to be dominating the European scene by the end of it. There is a lot of high-end talent, and its likely we’ll see at least seven or eight drafted before the second round is finished. And for that reason, I was struggling to narrow this list down to four. And the fact that players like Simon Holmström and Tobias Björnfot didn’t make this list should be all the proof that is needed to showcase just how deep and strong this Swedish draft class is.

Philip Broberg – AIK – Defender

He might be one of the most talked about prospects at the draft, and the feels are very mixed on him. When you look at his stats for the year, its not something that looks like a top-10 pick. Whereas many of the other top Europeans plays in the top division and dominate, Broberg has struggled to really find the production in the second tier of Swedish hockey.

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Only nine points in 42 games for a defender that has a lot of offensive strengths isn’t something that’s going to wow people. However, he is only 17 and is one of the youngest in the draft class (he turns 18 on June 25), and his size is already were it needs to be at 6’3″ and 200 lbs. And internationally he has been great against competition the same age with almost a point a game.

His major strength is his speed. One of the best skaters on the blue line that you will ever see and his ability to keep calm as he moves the puck up ice is amazing. Especially for someone his size. Where he needs to develop his game is in the defensive department, where despite a good frame, can get beaten and his lack of awareness has let him down on a few occasions this season. But if those problems can be ironed out he has all the tools to be a genuine top player in the league. And that potential is why I see him going within the first 10 picks. While it might change on a dime before tomorrow I would look for him to go to the Edmonton Oilers with the eighth selection. 

Nils Höglander – Rögle BK – Winger

His first full year in the SHL and while it wasn’t great on a team level or even production level, Höglander did gain a lot from the year, especially in terms of experience. Playing 50 games for Rögle is fantastic for a youngster and he managed to get some solid minutes as well. With 14 points to show for it and the chance to showcase his creative nature was something that he took full advantage of. With the Juniors team he had a nice showing with seven points in eight games, despite not being a part of the team that went to Vancouver.

One of the things that impressed me the most as a watched some games with him, was his sheer tenacity and grit despite not being the tallest guy on the ice. He plays a much bigger game than what his body type would have you believe and while his hands are silky smooth, he works harder than most on the backcheck and defensive zone. And if someone was in the middle of scrums or in the net front battles for Rögle it was typically Höglander who was a key part of it. He is like a terrier that will fight for everything, and that is something I could see taking him far in today’s game, when combined with his hands and creative and fast playing style.

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His downside is that despite his hands and offensive talents, he lacks something to make him a true force to be playing against. He doesn’t have the greatest shot, nor the best vision and he is sometimes lacking that last bit of power and physicality in his net battles to really get the right position. However, if he can get something like that, he is someone that could easily become a great player and valuable piece to any franchise and is no doubt going in the first round.

Victor Söderström – Brynäs IF – Defender

The second defender from Sweden that is no doubt going in the first round and it’s very likely that he is the best of the two. A great two-way player who has so much awareness and calm to his game. And where Broberg played in the second tier, Söderström played 40 games in the SHL. He had seven points for Brynäs in those games and while those stats aren’t overly great, it’s not smart to be fooled by them.

What Söderström brings isn’t points but reliability. He will always find the right pass, and breakout and his understanding of the game in terms of pure hockey IQ is potentially the best in the entire class. And if the other team has the puck he uses his skills and knowledge to get into the right areas to block a shot or find a way to win the puck battle despite his lacking size.

His weakness is his shot, and while its not awful by any means, he again tends to use his knowledge to get the puck through and to the net. But despite a lot of time on the power play, he never really got the points rolling, like his vision should allow him too.

While he is a two-way player, he is better on the defensive end and his lack of speed does mean he is more than likely relying on reading the play well and find the open pass, rather than bring the puck up ice himself. However, despite that his understanding of the game and fantastic vision combined with defensive abilities more than makes up for it and he is a sure top-20 in my eyes.

Samuel Fagemo – Frölunda HC – Winger

Champion of Europe and Sweden at the age of 18. Not too shabby for the Swedish forward who had an excellent year for the Swedish champions. He was fantastic in scoring 25 points in 42 regular season games, 10 points in 11 CHL games and 10 playoff points on Frölundas path to glory. No matter how you look at it, he was a star this season and while he might be one of the older players at the draft, he has shown all his talents this year to all of Sweden and Europe. But, he failed to really showcase it at the juniors where he was one of the bigger letdowns for a disappointing year for the Swedes. He was expected to be their goal scorer and he failed, and it clearly hurt his draft stock.

I was fortunate enough to get to see him live as Frölunda took on Aalborg Pirates in the CHL and I was left speechless by his game. Fast, strong on the puck and with one of the best shots I have seen live. His release and wrist shot is upper-class and he was sensational. He didn’t score in that game, but I’m pretty sure the crossbar will never be the same, as he hit it at least twice with unrivaled power.

He is a pure goal scorer but sadly it means that his weakness is his backchecking and defensive abilities. In that area he lacks a lot and if he is having an off day offensively, he won’t be amazing defensively. If he can get that little bit better in that end of the ice, he might be a steal for someone who seems to drop much further than his talents should allow him to.

Statistics provided by EliteProspects

Featured Image Photo Credit: Nikos Michals

Pittsburgh Penguins: Last 15 Years of 1st Round Picks

The Penguins are not shy to drafting quality players in the 1st round. But outside of the big names, just how well have they drafted?

The Penguins will have their first 1st round pick this upcoming draft for the first time in 4 years.

Where Did Those Picks Go?

The Penguins’ 2018 1st round pick was included in a deal with the Ottawa Senators on February 23, 2018. The Penguins acquired Derick Brassard, Vincent Dunn and a 2018 3rd round pick. In return, the Senators acquired the 1st round pick, Filip Gustavsson, Ian Cole and a 2019 3rd round pick.

The Penguins’ 2017 1st round pick was traded to the St. Louis Blues on June 23, 2017. The Penguins acquired Ryan Reaves and a 2017 2nd round pick. The Blues acquired Oskar Sundqvist and the 1st round pick.

The Penguins’ 2016 1st round pick was included in a monster deal with the Toronto Maple Leafs on July 1, 2015. The deal sent Phil Kessel, Tim Erixon, Tyler Biggs and a 2016 conditional 2nd round pick to the Penguins. In return, the Leafs acquired Kasperi Kapanen, Scott Harrington, Nick Spaling, the 1st round pick, and a 2016 3rd round pick.

The Penguins’ 2015 1st round pick was sent to the Edmonton Oilers on January 2nd, 2015. The Penguins acquired David Perron in exchange for Rob Klinkhammer and the 1st round pick.

Let’s start from the top.

Kasperi Kapanen

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In the 2014 draft, the Penguins selected forward Kasperi Kapanen with the 22nd overall selection in the 1st round. Kapanen never played a single game for the Penguins prior to being dealt to the Maple Leafs. At the time, Kapenen was the Penguins’ best prospect and held quite a lot of value. Kapanen recently found some success with Toronto in his 4th season with the team. He had a 44 point season (20 goals, 24 assists) in 78 games.

No Pick – 2013

The Penguins did not have a 2013 1st round draft pick.

Olli Maatta & Derrick Pouliot

In the 2012 draft, the Penguins selected two defenseman, Olli Maatta (22nd overall) and Derrik Pouliot (8th overall) in the 1st round. Maatta had a promising rookie season in the 2013-14 season. He put up 29 points (9 goals, 20 assists) in 78 games. But for the next three years, he would deal with multiple injuries that kept him on the sidelines for a lengthy period of time. In addition to his injuries, Maatta missed time due to a thyroid tumor. 

The 2017-18 season held some promise for Maatta, but his name is now being used in trade speculation around the league. Maatta has 107 career points (25 goals, 82 assists) in 362 games.

Pouliot could never really find his game with the Penguins. In the 2014-15 season, he put up just 7 points (2 goals, 5 assists) in 34 games. In the next two seasons in the Steel City, he would only have 7 points (7 assists) in 33 games. Prior to the 2017-18 season, he was dealt to the Vancouver Canucks, where he had a career high of 22 points (3 goals, 19 assists) in 71 games. Pouliot has 48 points (8 goals, 40 assists) in 200 career games.

Joe Morrow

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In the 2011 draft, the Penguins would select defenseman Joe Morrow (23rd overall) in the 1st round. Morrow would never play an NHL game for the Penguins. Throughout his career, he would play for the Boston Bruins, Montreal Canadiens and now the Winnipeg Jets. Morrow has 32 career points (9 goals, 23 assists) in 162 games.

Beau Bennett

In the 2010 draft, the Penguins would select forward Beau Bennett (20th overall) in the 1st round. Bennett would have his NHL debut in the 2012-13 season, where he put up 14 points (3 goals, 11 assists) in 26 games. He played for the Penguins for the next three seasons, but could never find his offensive production he was thought to have. He was traded to the New Jersey Devils for the 2016-17 season. Since being traded to New Jersey, he has played with the Devils, the Chicago Wolves (AHL), the St. Louis Blues and Dinamo Minsk (KHL). 

Simon Despres

In the 2009 draft, the Penguins selected defenseman Simon Despres (30th overall) in the 1st round. Despres would play 4 seasons with the Penguins putting up 33 points (5 goals, 28 assists) in 144 games. He would then spend 3 seasons with the Anaheim Ducks. He put up 10 points (1 goal, 9 assists) in 49 games with the Ducks. As of late, he’s bounced around between the KHL and DEL leagues.

No Pick – 2008

The Penguins did not have a 2008 first round pick.

Angelo Esposito

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In the 2007 draft, the Penguins selected forward Angelo Esposito (20th overall) in the 1st round. Esposito (no relation to Tony Esposito and Phil Esposito) has never played a game in the NHL. He retired from hockey after the 2015-16 season. 

Jordan Staal

In the 2006 draft, the Penguins would use their first round pick to select forward Jordan Staal (2nd overall). Staal played a huge role in Pittsburgh’s success. The Penguins would have arguably the best center depth in the league with Staal slotting in on the 3rd line. Staal would spend 6 years in Pittsburgh and would help them win their third Stanley Cup in franchise history. He put up 248 points (120 goals, 128 assists) in 431 games. He would be traded to the Carolina Hurricanes for the 2012-13 season to play along side his brother, Eric Staal. He’s still in Carolina and has put up 262 points (97 goals, 165 assists) in 462 games.

Sidney Crosby

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In the 2005 draft, the Penguins would select forward Sidney Crosby with the first overall selection. I don’t think this man needs an introduction. Crosby has been the best player Pittsburgh has seen since Mario Lemieux and has helped lead the Penguins to 3 Stanley Cups. Crosby has spent the last 14 seasons with the Penguins and had put up 1,216 points (446 goals, 770 assists) in 943 games. He’s also a 7x All-Star, 2x Hart winner, 3x Pearson winner, 2x Richard winner, 2x Ross winner, and a 2x Conn Smythe winner.

Evgeni Malkin

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In the 2004 draft, the Penguins selected forward Evgeni Malkin at 2nd overall. Again, he’s another guy that doesn’t need an introduction. Malkin has spent the last 13 years playing for the Penguins. In that time, Malkin has mustered up a total of 1,002 points (391 goals, 611 assists) in 852 games.  He’s also a 3x Stanley Cup winner, 3x All-Star, 2006-07 Calder winner, 1x Hart winner, 1x Pearson winner, 2x Ross winner, and a 1x Conn Smythe winner.

Marc-Andre Fleury

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In the 2003 draft, the Penguins selected goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury with the 1st overall pick. Fleury would spend 13 seasons wearing black and gold. He was a big inspiration to the Penguins’ current starting goalie, Matt Murray, and helped lead him on the right path. Unfortunately, Fleury had to be left unprotected in the Vegas Golden Knights expansion draft, and was selected by the Knights to be their goaltender moving forward. Fleury has spent the last 2 seasons in Vegas. In Fleury’s career, he’s totaled a SV% of .913, 2.56 GAA, and 56 shutouts.

Ryan Whitney

In the 2002 draft, the Penguins selected defenseman Ryan Whitney with the 5th overall pick. Whitney played in Pittsburgh for four seasons accumulating 150 points (34 goals, 116 assists) in 253 games. In the following six seasons, he bounced from the Anaheim Ducks to the Edmonton Oilers and finally he wound up with the Florida Panthers. Whitney managed to tally 109 points (16 goals, 93 assists) in 221 games. His final NHL season was in 2013-14 with the Panthers where he only played 7 games. Whitney now works for the NHL Network as an analyst and is also part of Barstool’s Spitting Chicklets podcast.

Colby Armstrong

In the 2001 draft, the Penguins selected forward Colby Armstrong with the 21st pick. Armstrong spent three seasons with the Penguins putting up 98 points (37 goals, 61 assists) in 181 games. He then played for the Atlanta Thrashers for three seasons where he put up 80 points (41 goals, 39 assists) in 179 games. His final two seasons came with the Toronto Maple Leafs and Montreal Canadiens where he put up 31 points (11 goals, 20 assists) in 116 games. Armstrong is now an analyst at Rogers Sportsnet.

Analysis

The Penguins seem to hit some gems when they’re drafting #1 or #2 overall (as they should), but overall their history of drafting in the first round isn’t great. Most of the players in the list above never made a big impact with the team, or never made a big impact anywhere they went. Perhaps, Penguins general manager Jim Rutherford can turn the tide this year as the draft class is a very strong one.

Stats from HockeyReference & NHL.com

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Nashville Predators

Dissecting the Nashville Predators Fall from Grace

With a disappointing playoff exit at the hands of the Dallas Stars, the Nashville Predators will be taking a hard look in the mirror. Can they pursue their goals of a Stanley Cup with this roster yet again, or are major changes needed?

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Six games. That’s all it took the Dallas Stars to eliminate the Central division champion Nashville Predators. The disappointing result to conclude the Predators season has raise questions among both fans and media alike. Coming into this season Nashville was expected to among the Stanley Cup favorites. With a loaded back-end, a Vezina-calibre goaltender and improvements up front, Nashville’s first round exit is a complete failure. A lack of offensive production paired with a blue-line who couldn’t seem to put it together for an extended period burned the team before they could even get to the main course.  

Offensive Ineptitude 

The forward group for Nashville has often struggled throughout the season. Although the Predators calling card has never been offence, this season the lack of production proved costly. Finishing 19th in the league, their 236 goals for were a major step backwards from last season where they finished 7th in the NHL with 261. Many pundits have pinned this drop off on the putrid power play performances that Nashville put forward over the season. They finished dead last in the league with a 12.94% conversion rate. a drop off from 21.17% last year. The power play struggles have been well documented, including here at PUCK77 in this deep dive

The deeper issue is the even-strength goals scoring. dropping from 9th (96 EVGF) to 24th (66 EVGF) in the league is a back breaker for any team. As a team, the Predators have undeniably failed offensively. According to Natural Stat Trick, the Predators finished 16th in HDCF% (High Danger scoring chances) with 50.28% but finished 4th in converting that with a 56.10% HDGF% (High danger goals for percentage). This would imply that the team is good at converting on their high danger chances yet doesn’t get to those areas enough. With only 712 HDCF through the season, the fact of the matter is that they are not getting to good scoring areas. In comparison teams in the top 10 averaged about 810 HDCF with the Carolina Hurricanes setting the high watermark with 900 HDCF.

Table courtesy of NaturalStatTrick.com

Goal Differential Stagnation

To be a truly elite team, a true Stanley Cup contender, you need your stars to produce beyond standard expectations. They should be able to create a major issue for other teams, creating a positive goal differential. When you score more than your opponent, you tend to win. As simple of a statement that it is, it’s easier said than done.

In Nashville’s case, when comparing their expected goal differential to their reality, they are about as average as a team could get. As you can see in the graph below, the Predators players are all bunched up at the “0” point of the graph. The few outliers for the team have been Mikael Granlund and Frederick Gaudreau. In Backlund’s case, he’s been quite poor in the fact that he has a worse GD60 (goal differential per 60 minutes of ice time) than expected in his time with the Predators. As for Gaudreau, he’s has been producing slightly above the rate he’s been expected to. However, as a bottom-six player, his impact on the game isn’t going to be as indicative on the outcome.

Chart courtesy of Sean Tierney (@ChartingHockey)

For players of Filip Forsberg, Ryan Johansen and Viktor Arvidsson skill levels, they need to be better in this department. For the Predators to truly recapture their elite status from 2017, they will need to be better than average. Depth in scoring would help that as they wouldn’t be burdened with doing it all as their production up and down the line-up was mediocre at best outside of that top line.

Goaltending Inconsistencies

The aging Finn that’s manned the Predators goal for years had an up-and-down season following his Vezina trophy winning season of 2017-18. Even with the inconsistency, Pekka Rinne was able to post a GSAA (goals saved above average) of 13.54, good for 8th league wide. His cumulative statistics over the season look solid yet again although the signs of aging were prevalent.

The inconsistency in his play came into play in the playoffs this year. His performance in the playoffs against the Dallas Stars was one of the reasons that Nashville fell short among others. In the graph below, the GSAA of all goalies to play in the playoffs are displayed with Rinne being dead last. Allowing almost four goals more than what an average goalie would, can be series killer. While this isn’t all on Rinne, the Nashville Predators netminder needed to be better and wasn’t.

While backup goalie Juuse Saros did play more this season than last, 26 GP to 31 GP, he will likely need to play more next season as Rinne will continue to regress with age. Saros has shown promise and should slowly move into a starters role over the next season or two. As beloved as Rinne is, both fans and management need to look at the window this team has and really question who should be in-between the pipes when the games truly matter.

Blue-line Dominance Fading

For years now, the Nashville Predators have had one of, if not, the best group of defensemen in the NHL. At one point, people considered them to have four quality top pair blue-liners. This season has been a major step back for the Predators defensive core.

Chart courtesy of Sean Tierney (@ChartingHockey)

As seen in the chart above, the ability to prevent entries and create exits for the stud-filled rearguards of Nashville has fallen off drastically this season. While captain Roman Josi and former Norris trophy winner P.K. Subban have been able to sustain positive control of the defensive zone, Mattias Ekholm and Ryan Ellis have both regressed this season.

Uneventful Ekholm

Ekholm has been traditionally overlooked on this backend by the average fan, but he’s consistently been a strong puck-mover while being responsible defensively. His ability to play a complete game was one of the reasons his partner, P.K. Subban, has been able to push the pace of play and take risks. His play this season however has been uneventful. While this isn’t a bad thing necessarily, it’s not good either.

With his defensive zone play lacking positive or negative impact, he wasn’t a detriment in his own end. The issue was the fact that he didn’t provide anything over and beyond the average defenseman. He definitely played better with Subban in the lineup, although there was a large chunk of games where he was playing without Subban due to injuries on the blue-line. A return to form for Ekholm should be expected in the fall.

Ellis Implodes

Ryan Ellis signed an extension in the offseason for 8 years, $50 million that kicks in at the beginning of next season. That gives him an AAV of $6.25 million which meant that this season was the last season of underpaying their top-four defencemen. The top-four will now cost a total of $23 million. With Josi expiring after next season meaning that number is only set to grow even further.

The struggles of Ellis have been concerning this season due to the fact that his contract runs through 2026-27. His foot speed has always been there but the difference this season has been his ability to make the appropriate decision with and without the puck. Although he put up 41 points in 82 games this year, he was undeniably one of the worst defencemen in the league for allowing opposing players to enter the zone.

Graph courtesy of Corey Sznajder (@Shutdownline)

As you can see from the graph above, while Ekholm, Subban and Josi have all been positives, even if they haven’t been as efficient as in years past. Ellis on the other hand has been absolutely atrocious. Among the worst players in the league at preventing the zone entry, the diminutive blue-liner needs to return to respectability. His ability to pivot and force players to the outside, limiting high danger chances wasn’t up to his usual standards. Generally able to skate his way out of trouble, using his active stick to turn the puck over, he failed to do this far to often this season.

Without his return to form, the contract and the defence corps will likely struggle in years to come with little-to-no flexibility to change it up unless a change is made.

Change for the sake of Success

This season proved that the Nashville core may need to change. While the team gave this group a good run, with marginal success, to get to the next level they will need to find some scoring. The depth up-front is in need of an injection of talent. The emergence of Dante Fabbro after he signed with the Predators helps the backend depth.

Simple math would suggest that if the management group, led by David Poile, think that Fabbro is ready to play on the second pairing, they should look at moving a defenseman. This leaves the question of who to trade. The logical candidates are the freshly extended Ryan Ellis and the non-homegrown P.K. Subban.

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The case for moving Ellis would be that with his league wide perception and value still very high, you can get almost maximum value. Trading Ellis to a team looking for a good right-handed defenceman could net a solid return in an offensive talent. Possible trading partners for Ellis could include the likes of the Toronto Maple Leafs or the Pittsburgh Penguins. Both teams that are in win-now mode, need help on the back-end heading into next year after disappointing first round exits for each team.

A return such as Kasperi Kapanen plus draft picks or prospects from Toronto could be likely. A trade with Pittsburgh could be more interesting as the possibility of a one-for-one with Phil Kessel being the return could be an option for the Predators who need a pure offensive force. While a trade isn’t close (or even rumoured as of yet), Ellis has to be an option to be moved.

The other trade chip that Nashville possesses is P.K. Subban. This trade presents its own obstacles due to the fact that Subban is owed $9 million for three more seasons. This is a hefty number for any team to take on so some creativity may need to be used in order to facilitate a trade. Whether it’s taking on a contract, salary retention or even finding a matching cap hit, a Subban trade will cause GM David Poile to work his magic.

Extending the Championship Window

This Predators team has the ability and the means to extend the window to win. Changes will be needed. Coming back next season with the same roster will not suffice. Whether it’s a trade or free agency, the Nashville Predators need to alter their strategy when looking at how to build their roster. A star-studded blue-line has been close but each time they’ve been struck down because their offensive depth couldn’t get it done. That needs to change next season or the Predators could become the team that can’t win no matter how good their roster looks on paper.

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

All stats and info is from nhl.comhockey-reference.com, and Naturalstattrick.com

Charts and graphs provided by Sean Tierney and Corey Sznajder‘s Public Tableau

Featured Image Photo Credit – Nikos Michals

New York Rangers

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

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.

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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