NHL Draft Profile: Spencer Knight

Spencer Knight is the top goalie among most draft aficionados. He was the unheralded backbone of one of the best USNTDP of all-time. His ability to stay calm, cool and collected paired with maybe the best athleticism for any player in the draft combine to make Knight a top prospect in the 2019 NHL Draft.

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Name: Spencer Knight

Date of Birth: April 19, 2001

Nationality (Place of Birth): American (Darien, CT, USA)

Hieght: 6’3″

Weight: 198lbs

Catches: Left

Position: G

Rankings

Ranked #12 by TSN/McKenzie

Scouting Report

The top goaltender in the draft has been outstanding all year. He has shown all the tools that talent evaluators look for in a young goaltender. His mental make-up is strong and he does an excellent job staying poised. He doesn’t panic or get flustered after allowing a weak goal. He stays focused and is able to see around screens because he shows great awareness of the play. The American goaltender does an excellent job at keeping his back upright and keeping a solid base to ensure that he’s using his entire 6’3″ frame in the net. In the video below, you can see Knight hold his ground despite the Finnish players best attempt at poking the puck free.  

Throughput the year, Knight showed that his maturity was well beyond his years. Often times with young goalies, sustained pressure from the opposition can lead to a break down in positioning and cause the young netminder to allow a goal that he would normally save. This isn’t often the case for Knight. He is able to harness his poise and focus in on tracking the puck while staying in good position. His eyes stay locked in on the puck and he is able to make multiple saves by kicking his pads out and closing down on the puck despite good movement from the opposing team. The video below if a perfect example of Knights ability to keep focused and dialed in on the puck. 

 

At the draft combine, many came away with the realization that Knight was among the best athletes in the draft. Knight shows his impressive athleticism with his ability to move laterally with precision and recover on plays that become a scramble in front of him. His lateral movement is extremely crisp and he rarely overshoots his positioning. He comes across the crease with a strong push. His ability to keep his upper body high while sliding over helps him stay big and cover the net as he transitions. Below you can see Knight unable to corral the loose puck in front of him but quickly recovers and uses his athleticism to make an outstanding save. 

Lower body strength and stability is an asset that goalies need and Spencer Knight has both. The future franchise netminder has the strength to keep his pad down and pinned to either post while still being able to stay upright and actively following the puck. The lower body strength aids in his push off from post-to-post and allows him to kick out his pads during a slide. As you can see below, Knight is able to use the aforementioned lower body strength to push off the right post and explode towards the recipient of the pass. His strong core allows him to stay upright long enough to make the marvelous save. 

When it comes to positioning, Knight is consistently stable. He plays a mature game which makes him far ahead of the curve for draft eligible goaltenders. The goalkeeper does a good job at absorbing the puck into his chest and not allowing egregious rebound more often than not. His reflexes have developed further throughout the year and he’s been able to track and catch shots quite well. When the puck is shot to his blocker side, he often deflects the puck into the corner or up into the net depending on the situation. Knight is able to track a pass through the middle of the ice and not over commit on a slide. He stops in perfect position and is able to make the save with ease as you can see in the video below.  

What the Detractors Say

While no 18-year-old goaltender is perfect, Spencer Knight does everything you’d like a goaltender to do. One of the few aspects of Knight’s game that scouts have picked on is his tendency to play fairly deep in his net at times. While he comes out to challenge shooters in one-on-one scenarios, he has sunken into his net at times during sustained pressure. While this hasn’t been an issue at junior level, it could become an issue at the next level as the athletic goalie moves forward. His athleticism helps him make up for the depth in which he plays at but he could stand to play a little higher in his crease.

Preseason Outlook

Having played in 14 games with the USNTDP U18 team a year early, many expected Knight to put on a show for the 2018-19 season. His positioning and athleticism allowed him to play up a level with success. Coming into the year, the young goaltender was considered the top goalie and he did nothing to change that fact.

Video courtesy of Justy Power YouTube

USNTDP Success

The top-tier prospect in net was outstanding this year on a stacked USNTDP team. With the high-powered offence, Knight certainly received his fair share of goal support but there was a number of times where Knight would put on a goaltending clinic. Early in the season Knight put together a masterful performance against the Notre Dame Fighting Irish, ranked third in the NCAA at the time. Showing off all of his tools, this game signified his dominance and showed that he can read a play and play good positional hockey at a young age. In the video below, Knight makes an outstanding save on a slap shot from the circle. He shows excellent reflexes with the glove stage. 

Knight continued to put together good performances against both USHL and NCAA competition. He finished the year with a save percentage of .903 against USHL opponents but a .913 overall if you include the tougher NCAA schedule as well. This showed that he was able to play up to the competition and he benefitted from facing more steady work rather than the games in the USHL where his team often outshot the opposition by a wide margin.

Strong U18 World Championships

The world stage was where Knight shone brightest this year. At the U18 World Championships this year, Knight was able to dominate his peers. In his six games at the tournament, he allowed just 1.51 goals against average and had a sparkling .936 save percentage. However it was the save that he made that showed he would be an NHL goaltender sooner than many thought coming into the year.

Spencer Knight will be taken…

Somewhere in the 15-25 range most likely but there’s a chance he goes slightly earlier. Goalies are seldom drafted in the first round anymore but Knight is destined to be the exception. He’s one of the best American goaltending prospects in years and projects extremely well. His athleticism and mental fortitude will serve him well as he hopes to take the next step at Boston College next year. He is likely to step into a prominent role in the program despite being a freshman. His first task will be taking full control of the net and continuing to develop with the help of his Boston College athletic staff. The future franchise goaltender should, and likely will, be selected in the middle of the first round of the 2019 NHL Entry Draft.

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

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

Los Angeles Kings

Phaneuf Gone, But Are The Los Angeles Kings Still In On Marleau?

Yesterday, the Los Angeles Kings bought out Dion Phaneuf‘s contract. With Phaneuf’s contract bought out, the Kings have plenty of cap space, but does that mean that they should still pursue a trade with the Toronto Maple Leafs for Patrick Marleau?

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Phaneuf’s contract is off the books in Los Angeles. Over the past few seasons, fans have seen a huge decline in Phaneuf’s skill-set. The 34 year old defenseman from Edmonton, Alberta hasn’t posted a corsi-for percentage higher than 50% since his 2015-2016 campaign with the Toronto Maple Leafs. Last season, his corsi-for percentage wasn’t atrocious. He mustered up a corsi-for percentage of 49.1. But, keep in mind, Phaneuf was only averaging 15 minutes of ice time per night. This meant that Phaneuf was playing weak competition and it allowed the Albertan to shine. While Phaneuf’s production wasn’t half bad, it didn’t make sense to have a defenseman with a 7 million dollar cap hit to be on the third defensive pairing. 

Phaneuf Opening Up Cap Space For Marleau

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Now that Phaneuf has been bought out, the Los Angeles Kings have a projected cap space of 14.79 million for next season. With that being said, there were rumours circulating around the Los Angeles Kings possibly being interested in acquiring Marleau in a trade with the Toronto Maple Leafs. Marleau is coming off a rough campaign with the Maple Leafs. It appears that Marleau’s age has finally caught up to him. He appeared in 82 games for the Leafs, but failed to get to 40 points. Instead, Marleau recorded 16 goals and 21 assists. To be honest, those numbers aren’t half bad, but when you carry a 6.250 million cap hit, there are expectations that you will tally 50+ points. 

Marleau’s Offensive Productivity 

Not only are his point totals down, but he simply isn’t helping to create offensive scoring chances. In the visual below (created by Sean Tierney), you’ll see that Marleau’s carry-in percentage was quite low and his primary shot contributions/60 were low as well. In fact, several Leafs who had rough seasons including Par Lindholm, Connor Brown and Nazem Kadri were all more effective in generating scoring chances than Marleau.

offense

visual created by Sean Tierney, data from EvolvingWild and Corey Sznajder

In addition, Marleau was often playing on forward lines that weren’t effective. In the visual below from Tierney, you’ll see Marleau played on four different lines last season. He played alongside Nazem Kadri and Connor Brown for a bit, but that line simply wasn’t effective. The line’s expected goals against/60 (xGA60) was quite high and his expected goals for/60 (xGF60) was quite low. When Mike Babcock tried to change things up, he put Marleau on the same line with Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner. Unfortunately, that line wasn’t effective either. 

The only line that really gelled well for Marleau was when Babcock put Marleau, Kadri and Nylander together. The line did put up a low xGA60 and a high xGF60, but this line didn’t see that much ice time as the first and second line were far more effective at generating expected goals throughout the course of the season.

xg

visual by Sean Tierney, data from MoneyPuck.com

So, Is A Marleau Trade Worth It?

Based on the data that we’ve looked at, it’s evident that the Kings aren’t acquiring Marleau to boost their offense. Instead, they are looking to add a veteran who has one more year left on his deal in a cap-dump trade. The Kings would be essentially doing the Toronto Maple Leafs a favour. But, in order for the Kings to make this trade, they’d need some more value from Toronto. The Maple Leafs would have to make this trade attractive enough for the Kings because no team is going to just take a bad contract and say thank you. That being said, if Kings general manager Rob Blake can get an extra prospect or a mid-range draft pick from the Leafs, it would make the trade more appealing.

If I’m sitting in Blake’s shoes, I would rather go for one of the Leafs’ prospects. I think you can rule out Jeremy Bracco, who had an outstanding season with the Toronto Marlies (Maple Leafs AHL affiliate), but you might be able to land a solid prospect like Mac Hollowell or Yegor Korshkov. 

stats from hockey-reference.com, NHL.com, moneypuck.com, EvolvingWild, Corey Sznajder

visuals from Sean Tierney

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.

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