Kaapo Kakko ready to face the bright lights of New York − the supertalent has shown exceptional skill at every level

NHL / Artikkeli
Kakko wore the Red Bull helmet as the U20 player with most points for his club.
Kuva © Jaakko Stenroos - https://jaskan.kuvat.fi/
The New York Rangers drafted Kaapo Kakko with the second pick in the NHL draft. The youngster from Turku has already had significant achievements in his career despite his young age. Jatkoaika is the most popular specialized hockey site in Finland and we exceptionally publish this article in English, because the interest in supertalent Kaapo Kakko is so significant.

Kaapo Kakko was born in the west coast of Finland, in the city of Turku in February 2001. He played his youth for the local team TPS and made his major league debut in the Finnish league in season 2017−18 by playing in six games.

In the same season Kakko had dominated Finnish U20 league scoring 55 points in only 38 games. He was the top scorer for TPS, topping second-place scorer Tino Sirén by 13 points.

He ended up winning the Rookie of the Year award in the U20 league and earned his spot in Finland's national U20 team. Finland won the tournament and claimed the world championship title. Kakko scored four goals and tallied six assists for 10 points in seven games in the tournament.

He was tied with HIFK Helsinki prospect Niklas Nordgren for Finland's scoring lead, although Nordgren scored more goals than Kakko.

Kakko has been a significant player for Finland's national junior teams.

The 2018−19 season was a big breakthrough for Kakko, as he became a permanent fixture for TPS and established his position in the top lines and on the powerplay for one of the original teams in Finnish hockey.

Kakko said in Jatkoaika's interview in September 2018 that he feels good about being a top-5 prospect in the then upcoming draft, but that he wants to improve his game so that he could get himself closer to the first pick.

The first half of the season was a bit quieter for the skilled forward, but the tougher the games got, the more impact Kakko had for his team. In the first round of the playoffs against the upcoming champion HPK Kakko was pretty much the only player who carried the Turku team forward.

He scored the most goals as a rookie (22) in the Finnish league that season and was selected as The Rookie of the Year. Still TSN expert Craig Button did not believe that Kakko would beat Jack Hughes in the competition to be the 1st pick in the 2019 draft − a bit hindsightedly we can say he was right.

− It is a bit like the situation with Auston Matthews and Patrik Laine. That is how I see it, Button said late December in 2018.

Kakko surpriced many ice hockey fans with his ability to possess the puck.
Kuva © Timo Savela

Even though TPS got eliminated in the first round in the domestic league, Kakko worked his way through to the national team for the World Championship tournament held in Slovakia.

Kakko decided to join the pre-tournament camp relatively early and did not participate to the U18 World Championships, so he did not face Hughes in those games and was not a part of Finland's disappointing performance in the tournament.

Into the spotlight

The true surprise came, when Finland's head coach Jukka Jalonen announced that Kakko would be in the team for men's World Championship games in 2019. On a very much unheralded team Kakko was given a huge role in 5-on-5 as well as on the  powerplay unit.

Kakko started the tournament with stunning performances as he scored five goals in the first three games against Canada, Slovakia and USA. Was it because the North American teams still weren't familiar with Kakko's abilities or maybe showed his true skin among high class international games.

Although Kakko's scoring pace eased down a bit as the tournament went on, he was still doing all the small things right. As the hockey following world knows, Kakko won the World Championship title with Team Finland.

Kakko hoisted the World Championship Trophy in celebration party back in Finland.
Kuva © Saimi Airaksinen

Just this weekend Kakko was selected by New York Rangers as the 2nd player of the 2019 draft. Only the future will tell, how the bright lights of New York and Madison Square Garden will treat the young Finn.

Manhattan and the Rangers have been a rare, but good place to be for Finnish players. For example legendary forward Esa Tikkanen won the Stanley Cup for the Rangers in 1994. It is the last time Rangers have hoisted that trophy.

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