Kaapo Kakko

PHT Morning Skate: Delicate line for NHL coaches; Sabres headed for collapse?

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Welcome to the PHT Morning Skate, a collection of links from around the hockey world. Have a link you want to submit? Email us at phtblog@nbcsports.com.

• The Devils discuss why John Hynes was fired, and the tone is pretty close to the opposite of how people discussed coaches like Mike Babcock once he was out the door. Taylor Hall talks up Hynes’ role in Hall winning a Hart Trophy, saying “I have a pretty cool trophy at home that I think he had a part in.” (The Trentonian)

• Kings coach Todd McLellan has been around, including working with Mike Babcock in Detroit. He has some interesting insight on how “delicate” it can be to motivate players without crossing the line, and compares it to how discipline has changed at elementary schools. “Ears aren’t pulled. You don’t go to the principal’s office to see or get the strap.” (Los Angeles Times)

• John Tortorella didn’t comment, but plenty of players from his various stops discuss his methods, with the overriding message being that he doesn’t cross the line. (The Athletic [$])

• A hand injury will likely keep Wild defenseman Jared Spurgeon out at least a couple weeks. (Star-Tribune)

• In taking a deep dive regarding the Sabres’ underlying numbers, Travis Yost wonders if another collapse is looming. (Buffalo News)

• Manon Rhéaume, the first woman to play in the NHL, will be honored with a statue outside Quebec City’s Videotron Centre. [CBC]

• An in-depth breakdown of the Blues’ “Enter the Zone,” predictive gaming platform, which “offered a glimpse of the future of wagering on professional hockey.” (ESPN)

• Sonny Sachdeva wonders if Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl could actually maintain their paces at around 140 points, and compares their starts to some of the hottest stretches from the likes of Jaromir Jagr and Sidney Crosby. (Sportsnet)

• How defensemen are evolving to impact games more at 5-on-5 than on the power play. (Rotoworld)

• People might snicker at Alex Burrows making the Ring of Honour, or sneer at his agitating days, but Daniel Wagner explains that you won’t understand Burrows if you aren’t a fan of the Canucks. (Vancouver Courier/Pass it to Bulis)

• When will the Blackhawks break out of their current trend of mediocrity? (Second City Hockey)

• The second tier of pending free agents who might get big raises, from Jake Muzzin to Evgenii Dadonov. (Sporting News)

• There are some interesting photo choices in the latest edition of the Upper Deck hockey card series. [Puck Junk]

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

NHL Fantasy Hockey: Olofsson, Schwartz among this week’s best adds

Welcome to our weekly Adds/Drops column, where I focus on highlighting players you should consider grabbing or be concerned about in fantasy leagues. As always, the goal here isn’t to recommend 10 players you must add and five players that need to be dropped. Context is everything and the context of each league is different. What this is instead is a guideline so that if you’re looking to make a change, you have potential players to target and if you see players I’ve suggested to drop, you can evaluate your potential alternates.

Players Worth Adding

Jared Spurgeon, Wild – D: Spurgeon might not be the best of the best when it comes to offensive production from defensemen, but he has been rather good and reliable in recent years. He’s recorded between 37-43 points in each of his previous three seasons and he’s well on his way to doing at least that well in 2019-20 with three goals and 15 points in 26 games. His production has come in waves this season, but right now he’s riding one with a goal and six points in his last five contests. If you want to grab a hot defensemen who wouldn’t look out of place on most teams throughout the year then Spurgeon should be on your shortlist. Presently he’s only owned in 25% of Yahoo leagues.

Adam Fox, Rangers – D: If you want someone who is a bigger gamble than Spurgeon, but with more upside, then you could consider Fox instead. The one thing the two of them have in common is that both of them have been producing lately. In Fox’s case, he has two goals and five points in his last five games. Fox has been flying a bit under the radar for a while now though. He had no points in his first seven games while averaging just 16:04 minutes, but more recently the rookie has settled in and become a major contributor for the Rangers. From Oct. 24th onward, he’s scored five goals and 14 points in 18 contests while averaging 18:50 minutes. A lot of people haven’t gravitated to him yet given that he’s still owned in just 27% of Yahoo leagues, but if he keeps playing like this then he’ll start getting scooped up at an exponential rate. In other words, there might not be a whole lot more time to grab the 21-year-old.

Ivan Barbashev, Blues – C/LW: Barbashev had just 14 goals and 26 points in 80 games last season, but that’s hardly surprising given that he was averaging a modest 11:31 minutes. The Blues are giving him 13:33 minutes per game this season and his production has ticked up to four goals and 13 points in 28 contests. He’s not a major offensive threat, but at this point he’s worth at least looking at as a short-term grab when he’s hot. Now is such a time given that he’s scored two goals and six points in his last three games.

Gustav Nyquist, Blue Jackets – LW/RW: The Blue Jackets had a rough summer to say the least, but the one significant player they did manage to sign was Nyquist. He was limited to a goal in his first four games with them, perhaps because he was still finding his groove with his new team, but since then he’s been a pretty reliable contributor. He has six goals and 17 points in his last 22 games. Over that span he hasn’t been held off the scoresheet for more than two games in a row. Along with his eligibility on both wings, he’s a nice player to help fill the void if you’re dealing with injury problems.

Blake Coleman, Devils – LW/RW: Coleman’s not a great long-term pickup, but he might be worth gambling on in the short-term. He’s been effectively lately with six goals and 10 points in his last nine games. That’s in stark contrast to his three goals and four points in 16 contests start to the campaign. Coleman’s long-term production will fall about in the middle of those extremes, but for the most at least he’s playing above his norm.

[For more fantasy sports analysis, check out Rotoworld]

Joonas Donskoi, Avalanche – LW/RW: Donskoi is having a pretty interesting season. He’s been held off the scoresheet of 15 of 26 games, but he still has 11 goals and 22 points. That’s because when he does have an offensive game, it tends to be a big one. He has six multi-point games this season and four contests where he’s recorded at least three points. To put that in perspective, teammate Nathan MacKinnon, who has nearly double Donskoi’s point total, has contributed just one more three or more points game. This is all to say that Donskoi has been a bumpy ride, but if you can stomach the droughts, he has averaged out to be a pretty good contributor.

Dustin Brown, Kings – RW: Brown has already endured some prolonged slumps this season, but he’s been better lately with two goals and five points in six contests. It’s entirely possible this is just a bit of a hot streak and that proves to be the case, you shouldn’t hesitate to drop him. That said, he was pretty effective in 2017-18 and 2018-19, so it’s entirely possible that he’s turned a corner and will be fairly solid going forward.

Victor Olofsson, Sabres – LW/RW: Offensive defensemen have been the highlight of this season’s rookie pool thus far, but in terms of rookie forwards, Olofsson has led the charge with 10 goals and 20 points in 27 games. He had a quiet stretch from Oct. 17-Nov. 2 where he was limited to just two assists in eight games, but he’s bounced back in a big way with four goals and 10 points over his last 12 contests.

Jaden Schwartz, Blues – LW: Schwartz was limited to 11 goals and 36 points in 69 games last season, which is the worst he’s done from a points-per-game perspective since his 2012-13 rookie campaign. He’s bounced back nicely in 2019-20 though. He has seven goals and 20 points in 28 contests, making him a pretty decent stopgap if you need an injury replacement.

Mark Borowiecki, Senators – D: If you’re picking up Borowiecki, it will be primarily for the hits. He ranks second in the league with 108 hits and leads all defensemen in that category by a decent margin. The next best blueliner is Brenden Dillon, who has 86 hits this season. Borowiecki has always been a great contributor in the hits category, but what makes this season a little different is that he’s chipping in a bit offensively too. Not a lot, but it’s enough to tip the scales a bit more in his favor. He has two goals and 10 points in 27 contests. It helps that he’s averaging 17:10 minutes, which will be a career-high if he maintains it. 

Players You May Want To Drop

Jakob Silfverberg, Ducks – RW: From Oct. 8-Nov. 14, Silfverberg was contributing like an elite forward with nine goals and 17 points in 18 contests. He’s gone cold though, recording just an assist in his last seven games. Silfverberg has traditionally been a solid secondary scorer, but no more than that. I do think he’s worth keeping a close eye on even if you do drop him, but you should still examine your other options.

Jack Hughes, Devils – C: Hughes is day-to-day with a lower-body injury, but it sounds like that’s just a minor setback. The bigger issue is that Hughes is dealing with some growing pains in his rookie season. He has four goals and 11 points in 24 contests, which is hard to criticize given that he’s just 18-years-old, but it’s not the kind of production you’d hope for out of a first overall pick, even in their rookie season. If you’re in a keeper league then it’s still worth your while to hang onto Hughes as he should eventually be a great forward, but if you’re in a single season league then you’ll want to cut your losses. Even if he does heat up to an extent in the second half of the campaign, odds are it won’t be enough to warrant holding onto him given his center-only eligibility.

Kaapo Kakko, Rangers – RW: Those hoping this season’s Calder Trophy race would be a fight between Hughes and Kakko have been left disappointed. Like Hughes, Kakko hasn’t exactly excelled in his rookie season. The 2019 second overall pick has six goals and 11 points in 23 contests. He did seem to turn a corner from Oct. 29-Nov. 20 with five goals and eight points in eight games, but he fell right back with just an assist over his last six contests. It doesn’t help that he’s a huge plus/minus liability at minus-13.

Phil Kessel, Coyotes – RW: I’ll admit to being somewhat on the fence about this one. The Coyotes acquired Kessel to lead the charge for them offensively and he certainly has that ability, but so far this season he’s been fairly underwhelming. He has four goals and 14 points in 28 contests. He also has a minus-14 rating, which is terrible in general, but especially with Arizona this season. The Coyotes only have four minus players and Kessel’s rating is by far the worst. He is making a transition to a new team so it wouldn’t be shocking to see him have a better second half, but thus far he’s been a big disappointment.

Mackenzie Blackwood, Devils – G: Cory Schneider’s struggles and eventual demotion to the AHL has made Blackwood the clear number one goaltender in New Jersey, but he still leaves plenty to be desired. Blackwood has an 8-7-3 record, 3.12 GAA, and .898 save percentage in 18 contests this season. This has been a rough season for the Devils and their goaltending situation is one that’s best to avoid entirely.

If you’re looking for fantasy hockey information, Rotoworld is a great resource. You can check the player news for the latest information on any player and insight into their fantasy outlook.

Every week Michael Finewax looks ahead at the schedule and offers team-by-team notes in The Week Ahead. I have a weekly Fantasy Nuggets column where I basically talk about whatever’s captured my attention that week. Gus Katsaros does an Analytics columns if you want to get into detailed statistical analysis. If you’re interested in rookies and prospects, there’s a weekly column on that written by McKeen’s Hockey.

Rangers’ Kakko showing his potential, swagger

Imagine being told at age 18 that you have landed the job of your dreams.

The only caveats: it would be more than 4,000 miles from your hometown and the cultural and language differences are substantial.

For Rangers forward Kaapo Kakko, this was the reality he faced after the New York Rangers selected him second overall in the 2019 NHL Draft.

With three goals and a shootout tally over the past two games, Kakko is starting to acclimate to his new surroundings.

“There is just a whole new level of swagger to him that I hadn’t seen since he got here,” Rangers coach David Quinn said. “Not only on the ice, but off the ice. There is a comfort level that he is attaining, and you could see it in his face. There is a lot more smiling and a lot more swagger.”

Kakko never doubted his hockey ability but needed time to familiarize himself with a new lifestyle in a new city before his on-ice skills could match the lofty expectations that came with his premium draft position.

The challenges facing young professional athletes from overseas are often overlooked, yet quite extensive when put in perspective.

“He works so hard, it’s not easy coming over here as an 18-year-old and not speaking the language,” Chris Kreider, a former Rangers’ first-round pick, said of Kakko. “When I was 18, I was struggling to play college hockey. I was a little homesick and I was 45 minutes away from home.”

Teammate Brendan Lemieux spent two seasons with the Winnipeg Jets before being traded to the Rangers and saw firsthand how Patrik Laine also made the transition from being a teenager in Finland to playing in the NHL. Laine, 21, also had heavy expectations from the start after being selected second overall in 2016..

“He’s (Kakko) smarter than 99 percent of young, skilled hockey players that I have ever played it with,” Lemieux said. “He has figured out already, which takes a lot of guys five or six years, that simplicity can lead to offense. It’s pretty incredible to see and he is fun to play with.”

New York’s top line center Mika Zibanejad has been dealing with a neck injury but should return to action in the coming weeks, which will alter the makeup of the Rangers’ forward combinations. Kakko has excelled on the Rangers’ third line in recent games, but is he ready for a more prominent role?

“He’s not going to be intimidated from any other challenge that is presented to him,” Quinn said. “I’m not worried about moving him up [the lineup].”

Whether he moves up in the depth chart now or continues to work his way up throughout the season, Kakko is quickly becoming one of New York’s most dynamic players.

“I think he’s continuing to build on his confidence level,” Quinn said. “He has certainly proven that he can have success this year in the National Hockey League, that’s for sure.”

Scott Charles is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @ScottMCharles.

Rangers beat Penguins in OT thanks to Kakko’s big night

Kaapo Kakko looked dominant, at times, against men before he was drafted, including versus some NHL talent during the 2019 IIHF World Championship. The feeling was that he could make an immediate and successful jump from being the second pick of the 2019 NHL Draft to becoming an instant impact player for the New York Rangers, possibly outshining top pick Jack Hughes for the Devils.

A little more than a month into his career, it’s been up-and-down for Kakko, but we might just look at Tuesday’s game against the Pittsburgh Penguins as a breakthrough moment.

Rangers start strong

Kakko took advantage of a bodacious Brendan Lemieux pass to score the first goal of Tuesday’s game, then ended up collecting the game-winner in overtime as the Rangers beat the Penguins 3-2 (OT). You could call it a big night not just for Kakko, but the Rangers’ youth in general, as Adam Fox set up Kakko’s OT game-winner, and also scored the Rangers’ second goal off of a great feed by Artemi Panarin.

Here’s that OT-winner for your viewing pleasure:

The Rangers dominated the first period, ending in 2-0, and credit to Matt Murray for keeping it from being any worse. Natural Stat Trick’s period-by-period graph provides another way of showing how dramatic the bad start was for Pittsburgh:

Penguins roll with the punches, and break a slump

The point’s been made that the Penguins have had a knack for rallying lately, and they did again on Tuesday — just not for the win.

Pittsburgh scored two goals in the second period to tie things up. Maybe the biggest sigh of relief came on the second tally, and not just because it made the game 2-2 at the time. After going 0-for-28 in their last power-play opportunities and failing to score on the man advantage for almost a month, Jared McCann finally ended that drought.

That second-period effort was enough for the Penguins to secure a standings point despite falling behind 2-0 early on, but Fox and Kakko combined for the game-winner.

Kakko is now at six goals and eight points over his first 16 NHL games, while this also marks his first point streak (he scored a goal against the Panthers on Sunday). With that goal and assist, Fox generated his first multi-point game, but the defenseman has already been a quick study (insert Harvard joke), as this pushes his own point streak to five games (two goals, four assists for six points during that span). Fox also has eight points in 16 games this season.

Recent play of both teams

The Penguins will get a dose of the top two picks of the 2019 NHL Draft this week, as their next game is against Hughes and the Devils on Friday. After that, the Penguins play five of their next six games at home from Nov. 16-27, so maybe they’ll get some confidence in breaking that PP drought and at least getting a point with Sidney Crosby on the shelf for an unclear duration of time. Pittsburgh’s record sank to 10-6-2 for 22 points.

The Rangers, meanwhile, continue to quietly build up steam. They’ve gone 4-0-1 in their last five games, five of their last seven (5-1-1) to improve to 8-6-2 overall.

If young players like Kakko and Fox keep improving, the Rangers might just manage more hot stretches down the road in 2019-20.

MORE:
• Pro Hockey Talk’s Stanley Cup picks.
• Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV schedule

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Rangers’ Lemieux sets up Kakko for beauty vs. Penguins

The New York Rangers ended the first period up 2-0 against the Pittsburgh Penguins on Tuesday (watch live on NBCSN; stream here) thanks, in part, to some tremendous passing.

Most impressively, Brendan Lemieux sent a tremendous long bomb of a pass, beating multiple Penguins defenders, to Kaapo Kakko, who scored what might have been his best goal in the NHL so far by finishing the play with great moves.

This marks the first multi-game point streak for Kakko, 18, who also scored a goal against the Florida Panthers on Sunday. The second pick of the 2019 NHL Draft now has five goals and seven points so far in his rookie season, and still has two periods to add more during his 16th game.

The Penguins failed on two power plays in the first period, pushing them to 0-for-28. They haven’t scored a PPG since mid-October.

[More on the Penguins’ struggling power play]

To make matters worse for the Penguins, Artemi Panarin sent a tremendous pass to defenseman Adam Fox for the 2-0 goal with less than 10 seconds left.

Pittsburgh’s been a slow-starting team quite often in 2019-20, and in some cases have been able to rally for comeback wins. We’ll see if they can pull off another one on Tuesday, as it’s been a very weak start, and it’s possible it could have been more than a 2-0 lead for the Rangers after 20 minutes.

***

The Penguins ended up rallying back to tie the game 2-2, and sent it to overtime. Kakko scored again in OT, however, giving the Rangers the win. More here.

MORE:
• Pro Hockey Talk’s Stanley Cup picks.
• Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV schedule

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.