VANCOUVER — Kaapo Kakko will be the center of the New York Rangers’ youth movement after he was selected second overall during the 2019 NHL Draft Friday night in Vancouver.
The 6-foot-2, 187 lbs. Kakko, who was the top international skater in NHL Central Scouting’s final rankings, finished sixth in scoring in Finland’s Liiga this past season with 22 goals and 38 points in 45 games. Those 22 goals broke Aleksander Barkov‘s league record (21) for a U18 player.
Kakko was also the hero of the 2019 World Junior Championship after scoring the gold medal-winning goal in overtime against the United States. He also led his country to gold at the U-18 World Championship and the senior men’s World Championship where every game he seemed to put on a show.
Kakko, 18, was projected to be the No. 2 pick following American center Jack Hughes, who was taken first overall by the New Jersey Devils. Ending up in the second spot put the Rangers in a “no-lose” situation as new team president John Davidson put it last month. Their decision was going to be made by their rivals in New Jersey and either way they were going to land a promising player.
“These are the types of players that could help define a franchise,” Davidson said. “You have to make sure the timing is right, make sure they’re ready, etc. But I think every Ranger fan should have a smile on their face at picking No. 2.”
Along with Filip Chytil, Lias Andersson, Adam Fox, and Vitaly Kravtsov, among others, Kakko is another piece for general manager Jeff Gorton to add as the franchise transitions to get younger. With two more years remaining on Henrik Lundqvist’s contract, it’s not a complete rebuild, which could signal an aggressive summer in free agency and the trade market.