VANCOUVER — Kaapo Kakko has not been to New York City but has heard all about it, especially after the NHL Draft Lottery when it became clear he would be going No. 2 overall to the New York Rangers.
While he is friendly with Rangers goaltender Alexandar Georgiev after playing with him with TPS of Finland’s Liiga, the 18-year-old winger knows one thing about the Big Apple.
“I think it’s so nice. It’s a nice city,” Kakko said during Thursday’s NHL Draft Top Prospects media availability. “It’s a little bit bigger than [my hometown of] Turku.”
Kakko has worked on improving his English ahead of an NHL career that will more than likely begin in September. Movies and television have helped, as well as playing with former NHLer and TPS teammate Lauri Korpikoski.
When Kakko arrives in New York City next season, he’ll only be a short drive away from Jack Hughes, who is likely to be selected by the New Jersey Devils with the top pick Friday night (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN; livestream). The two forwards have been the consensus top two in projections all season long. Now they’ll be linked together for the rest of their careers.
Kakko, who will become the seventh Finnish-born player all-time to be selected in top three, spent his draft year wowing the hockey world and just winning. In January he scored the gold medal-winning goal — at Vancouver’s Rogers Arena, no less — to top Hughes and the U.S. at the World Junior Championship. Four months later, he scored six times in 10 games to help Finland win gold at the World Championship. Toss in gold at the U-18 World Championship in April 2018, and it’s been quite a successful run for him.
This past season with TPS he scored 22 goals and recorded 38 points in 45 games. Those 22 goals set a Liiga record by a U18 player, which was previously held by Aleksander Barkov (21).
“If New Jersey wants a winner, they should pick Kaapo,” said Finnish national team head coach Jukka Jalonen to the New York Times last month. “Hughes is a great player as well, but in the important games, Kakko has always been better. He is already playing like a man. He could play in the NHL right now, and in a few months, he will be even better. After a few years, he will be one of the best players in the world.”
Kakko, who said he wants to add strength to his 6-foot-2, 194 lbs. frame this summer, has always played against older competition and excelled. That experience has prepped him to make the transition to the NHL as soon as the 2019-20 season, which will fit in nicely with the rebuild plans of the Rangers.
“That’s my plan, my goal, to be in NHL next [season],” Kakko said.
NBC Sports presents live, exclusive coverage of first round of the 2019 NHL Draft this Friday, June 21, at 8 p.m. ET on NBCSN. Coverage begins at 7:30 p.m. ET with NHL Live.
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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.