New York Rangers fans got their first glimpse of Kaapo Kakko, the No. 2 overall pick in the 2019 NHL draft, wearing the team’s sweater on Monday when he made his debut at the annual NHL Prospect Tournament in Traverse City, Mich.
He did not disappoint.
He had a hand in all four of the Rangers’ goals in the 4-3 win over the Minnesota Wild prospects, assisting on the first three and then scoring a highlight reel goal in overtime to win the game. It was an incredible goal that featured him literally skating circles around the Wild’s defense before effortlessly scoring on a wraparound.
Have a look.
When asked about the play after the game, he responded by saying “I remember my old coach like two years ago told me, ‘In overtime, don’t pass.’ So I didn’t.”
On one hand, you can not make too big of a deal about what you see in prospect tournaments because a lot of the players taking place aren’t going to make it in the NHL or have any sort of a future in the league. The level of competition isn’t the same as what he is going to see starting this week when training camp begins, and especially once the regular season begins.
But it’s also hard to not get excited if you’re the Rangers or a fan because this is the type of player your organization needs to succeed.
The Rangers’ rebuild got a huge boost when they moved up to the No. 2 pick in the draft lottery and won the right to select Kakko. When combined with 2018 first-round pick Vitali Kravstov the Rangers now have two elite prospects on the right side ready to arrive on the scene as soon as this season. For as good of a prospect as Kravstov is, Kakko is the real gem and the player that could completely swing the rebuild.
Remember, it’s not just one game in a prospects tournament that is going to feed the hype.
He also excelled at the IIHF World Championship earlier this summer with six goals in 10 games, and was a top-line player in the top Finnish league as a 17-year-old, finishing with 38 points in 45 games (then adding four goals and an assist in five playoff games). For context, there were 19 other players in the Finnish league that were age 17 or younger this past season. As a group, they finished with only 69 points in 245 man-games. None of them had more than 19 points on their own. Kakko was on a level all his own.
Given what the Rangers’ lineup looks like on the right side you have to figure he is going to get an opportunity to make an immediate impact. The Rangers’ right wingers at the moment include Pavel Buchnevich, Kakko, Kratsov, and Jesper Fast. Buchnevich will probably start the season on the top-line which would leave Kakko and Kratsov (assuming both make the roster) on the second-and third-lines. Given how Kappo has consistently excelled at every level no matter the competition across from him, it would not be a shock to see him eventually play his way into that top-line spot this season.