What does it mean?
We’ve all seen the comments: “Kakko stinks,” or “He was a wasted pick.”
What’s important to remember is that he was all of 18 years old when he made the Rangers’ roster. Accustomed to playing top line minutes and seeing plenty of power play time, he found himself on the third line and the second PP unit.
Coach Gerard Gallant is always talking about confidence. It’s one of the reasons he keeps citing when talking about Chris Kreider’s spectacular start this season. Gallant knows that when a goal scorer has confidence, it makes a big difference. When Mika Zibanejad is asked about his scoring, he always brings up confidence.
If the Rangers can be guilty of something in how they have handled their prized pick, it’s that they have not given Kaapo Kakko a chance to build up that confidence. Even this season, while he has been ensconced on the top line with Zibanejad and Kreider, it has to be question of why they are using a scorer on a line with two scorers. Would he be better served playing with Panarin and Strome who are more apt to set up Kakko for scoring chances?
There’s little chance that Kakko will see first power play unit time as long as it is playing so well with the current configuration. His only power play goal this season came when he replaced an injured Artemi Panarin on the first unit and it shows what he is capable of.
As long as the young Finn is in this situation, we cannot complain about his total of five goals and 14 points in 37 games.
Despite the low offensive output, Kakko has become a force in the offensive zone and is tenacious when battling on the boards. After a rookie season that saw him in the middle of the stats pack, Kakko has led the team in 5v5 possession statistics last season and so far this year.
Kakko’s development as a well rounded forward has been impressive. If he can get the opportunities to utilize his offensive skills and gain the confidence he needs in his scoring he inevitably will turn into the player that the Rangers thought they were getting when they drafted him. Don’t forget, he doesn’t turn 21 until February 13.