Kaapo Kakko entered the season with sky-high expectations. New York Rangers fans considered him as the first-line right winger, seemingly destined for a connection with Mika Zibanejad and Artemi Panarin. As the Rangers lineup shifted and morphed into the controversial enigma that it is today, Kakko has found himself on every line combination possible. That’s in part because his play has been anything but consistent.
Expectations have quickly been tempered to more realistic goals after he’s put up just 12 points in his first 25 games. Contrary to many analysts and writers’ opinions, Kakko doesn’t seem poised for a Calder Trophy barring an offensive explosion. Yet, how disappointing are those numbers in reality? When comparing to a handful of other second-overall selections, the Finnish phenom seems to be right on track for a very respectable inaugural season in the NHL.
How Have Other Second-Overall Selections Fared?
Let’s look at every second overall pick from the last 10 years. That list includes Tyler Seguin, Gabriel Landeskog, Ryan Murray (who, for all purposes, isn’t a great comparable since he’s a defenseman), Aleksander Barkov, Sam Reinhart, Jack Eichel, Patrik Laine, Nolan Patrick, Andrei Svechnikov and finally Kakko. Excluding the most recent draft selection, all nine of those individuals have become well-established roster players. Some have even morphed into the faces of their respective franchises.
As of right now, Kakko has 25 games under his NHL belt. In those contests, he’s logged six goals, six assists, 42 shots on goal, and an average of just over 15 minutes of time-on-ice per game. He’s had spurts of clear talent where it looks like he’s finally found his groove but then takes a step back in the next game. At his current production, he is on pace for 20 goals and 18 assists. Not exceptional numbers by any means but it’s nearly identical to his predecessors. Here’s how the last nine second-overall picks have shaped out for their first 25 games played and their final numbers for the season.
- Andrei Svechnikov: 6 goals (G), 6 assists (A) in 25 games played(GP) (20 G, 17 A, 82GP)
- Nolan Patrick: 2 G, 5 A (13 G, 17 A, 73 GP)
- Patrik Laine: 13 G, 6 A (36 G, 28 A, 73 GP)
- Jack Eichel: 8 G, 4 A (24 G, 32 A, 81 GP)
- Sam Reinhart: 6 G, 3 A (23 G, 19 A, 79 GP)
- Aleksander Barkov: 4 G, 6 A (8 G, 16 A, 54 GP)
- Ryan Murray: 3 G, 3 A (4 G, 17 A, 66 GP)
- Gabriel Landeskog: 5 G, 6 A (22 G, 30 A, 82 GP)
- Tyler Seguin: 5 G, 5 A (11 G, 11 A, 74 GP)
Most notably, Svechnikov and Kakko’s numbers are nearly identical through their first 25 games, and his final numbers are right where Kakko’s projections currently sit. With a full season under his belt, Svechnikov is on pace to shatter his rookie numbers in his current campaign with 30 points in 29 games.
Amongst the rest of the second-overall selections, only Laine outscored Kakko in his first 25 games. He and Barkov are the only two players who entered the league at a younger age than Kakko, albeit by only a few months. It’s also worth noting that Laine was shooting at 20.4% at the 25 game mark. By the end of the season, his shooting percentage had slowly declined but still finished the year at a fairly high 17%.
Kakko’s currently scoring on 14% of his shots, slightly above the league average at the moment. Amongst the last ten selections, he has the third-highest shooting percentage. He is also on the lower side for shots in comparison to the other nine. By the 25-game mark, Svechnikov, Eichel, Laine and Landeskog all had well above 50 total SOG, while only one had a higher success rate than Kakko.
If he’s gonna achieve any sort of sustained production, he must begin to shoot far more frequently, especially when he’s jumping around the lineup. He’s impressed his teammates and coaches, but there’s still plenty of room for improvement in all facets of his game, particularly on the offensive side.
Rest of Season Expectations
The hockey community collectively put expectations on Kakko that were too high to reach in his inaugural season. Even Calder Trophy contention may have been a bit generous. In the last 20 years, Jeff Skinner, Aaron Ekblad and Nathan MacKinnon are the only three players to win the Calder at 18 years old. That’s an extraordinary expectation to put on a player that’s only just begun to play on North American ice.
His “slow” start may seem like a disappointment, but his current production is similar to those who’ve preceded him. He’s been particularly hard on himself due to his inconsistent play, but what else is to be expected of an 18-year-old thrust into the limelight of New York City? The whole fanbase should be ecstatic should he hit the 20-goal mark during his rookie campaign. Not many players in the salary cap era have accomplished that feat at his age.
As Kakko’s season progresses, keep in mind that he may not be scoring on a nightly basis but with each minute and shift brings more experience and knowledge towards his game. The points and goals will eventually come, it’ll just take plenty of patience and development from coaches before he can truly flourish at the professional level. If you need proof, just look at his predecessors and how they needed that same nourishment and kneading before they were able to become some of the most exciting names in hockey.