The New York Rangers’ regular season is fast approaching. With a re-tooled team that broke records in terms of getting out of a rebuilding period, expectations are high for 2019-20. One of their new tools, is the second-overall pick of the 2019 NHL Entry Draft, Kaapo Kakko.
Kakko, who fell to the Rangers after Jack Hughes was selected by the New Jersey Devils, comes to New York with a giant spotlight on him. At just 18 years old, he has the most critical sports city in the world watching him, and there needs to be a line drawn in the sand for what he can realistically do in his rookie campaign.
Here are some of those realistic expectations.
Promotion to First Line
The Rangers went out and acquired Artemi Panarin in the offseason, and are going to use him on one of the most explosive first lines in recent memory. Alongside Mika Zibanejad and Pavel Buchnevich, the top line is set.
But, another name can be added to replace Buchnevich on that line: Kakko. If he can play well enough on the second line with Chris Kreider and Ryan Strome, why not give him a chance alongside Zibanejad and Panarin?
Of course, two things need to happen first. The most crucial, that Kakko must light up the scoresheet and be a game-changer on the second line. The second thing, of course, is the opposite for Buchnevich; and he struggles to keep up with his first line superstars and doesn’t seem to add any positive production from the first right-wing spot.
This could happen because of Kakko’s potential. He can be good enough for the second line and help contribute offense from there or, he can go above and beyond that, and be a serious contender to lead the team in points. This season will show what he can do.
Calder Memorial Trophy?
This is a very real expectation for Kakko and there is only one player standing in his way: the man that was selected just one pick before him at the 2019 NHL Entry Draft by the New Jersey Devils, Jack Hughes. These two have re-ignited the Hudson River Rivalry and will be neck-and-neck in terms of the Calder Memorial Trophy voting.
The last New York Rangers player to take home the Calder Memorial Trophy was Brian Letch in 1988-89. Kakko could become the ninth Rangers player to take home the award.
The head-to-head matchup will be the most interesting factor in deciding who will win the award between the first and second overall picks. In the preseason, they didn’t face each other. Oct. 17, the first meeting of four between the Rangers and Devils, will be the first meeting between Kakko and Hughes.
This is the biggest expectation for Kakko in his rookie campaign. Sure, being on the first line is a huge accomplishment, and the Calder is a nice piece of hardware, but can he be consistent? He is the top prospect in the best prospect pool in the NHL, and he has an entire fanbase counting on him to lead the Rangers back to the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
This is can be attained if Kakko can show up every game and make a difference. It doesn’t always have to be a goal or an assist. Sure, those help but the smaller things, like laying the body or playing a good defensive game, can be just as effective. He is the youngest player on the roster under the biggest spotlight.
The Rangers have a lot of hope for the upcoming season, and the young players are the catalysts. Kakko has been universally accepted by the Rangerstown community as the next big thing. This first season will be his chance to show if he can live up to the expectations and the hype.