Two years ago, the New York Rangers selected Kaapo Kakko at No. 2 overall in the 2019 NHL Draft. While he has yet to have a breakout season, he is getting closer. He looked much more comfortable in his second season in the NHL and he is certainly trending in the right direction.
Kakko’s Rookie Season
While Kakko provided a few great moments in his rookie season, he also went through long slumps. His first NHL goal came on a beautiful deke and he also scored an overtime goal against the Pittsburgh Penguins early in the season.
He scored five goals and added three assists during an eight-game span but he followed that up by scoring just two goals in his next 48 games. Late in the season, he scored two goals against the Dallas Stars, but play eventually was suspended due to the COVID-19 pandemic a few days later.
The Rangers lost their play-in series, as they were swept in three games by the Carolina Hurricanes, but Kakko was a bright spot. He was strong on the puck and created some scoring chances though he didn’t have any points in the three games. He ended the regular season with 10 goals and 13 assists in 66 games. He was also a minus-23, which was the worst on the team. He struggled defensively and looked lost on the ice when he was slumping. While that is a fairly common occurrence for rookies, 2019-20 wasn’t the season that he or the Rangers had hoped for.
Kakko’s 2020-21 Season
This season, Kakko appeared to be much stronger and more confident in his game. He also made smart decisions with the puck and avoided unnecessary turnovers, which he was prone to make as a rookie. He ended the season with 31 takeaways and just 11 giveaways.
One of the most notable changes in Kakko’s play is that he became very strong on the puck, which allowed him to hold on to the puck longer and create scoring chances in the offensive zone. He also consistently won battles for the puck in the defensive zone and utilized his long reach to get in passing lanes and block shots. He was one of New York’s worst defensive forwards as a rookie but one of their better ones this season.
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Kakko was much more effective on the forecheck this season and his Corsi for percentage (CF%) was 56.1. He created lots of scoring opportunities but struggled to capitalize on them early in the season as he played with a number of different linemates and, at times, didn’t get much playing time. However, late in the season, he formed chemistry with fellow young forwards Filip Chytil and Alexis Lafreniere and the trio stuck together. They became an impressive line that steadily chipped in offensively for the Blueshirts. In total, Kakko finished the season with nine goals and eight assists in 48 games.
After a very inconsistent rookie season, Kakko became a very consistent forward for the Rangers in his second season. While he still had some scoring droughts, he was trustworthy defensively and consistently created scoring opportunities.
A key factor for Kakko to take his game to the next level is the ability to capitalize on his scoring chances. Too many times he missed the net from in close or shot when he had the opportunity to instead set up a teammate. He got limited ice time on New York’s second power-play unit, finishing the season with two goals and one assist on the man advantage. He has an excellent wrist shot, but frequently passed up good looks on the PP. As he continues to develop and improve, he should become a bigger contributor to the Blueshirts’ power play.
While this season wasn’t a breakout one for Kakko, it was a big step in the right direction. He simply needs to convert on more of his scoring chances, and if he does so that would be a huge boost for the Rangers.