When Kaapo Kakko was drafted 2nd overall in 2019, everyone expected him to be a superstar right out of the gate. He showed so much promise leading up to his draft year that when he was picked, the fans at the MSG watch party erupted with excitement. Fast forward 4 years later and fans are still waiting for Kakko to become the top talent they were hoping he would become.
While it hasn’t happened yet, he also hasn’t been given a fair opportunity to show what he could do. Whether it was injury or being forced down in the lineup, Kakko hasn’t been given the top-line minutes that a player like Jack Hughes, who was drafted one pick before him, has been given with the Devils. We all know the player that Hughes has become and given that same time and opportunity, we could truly see a breakout season from the Finnish winger.
One of the reasons why Kakko is poised to get top-line minutes is that he is the best right-winger the team has signed going into next season. With it seeming unlikely that Patrick Kane or Vladimir Tarasenko return to the Rangers, Kakko is the Rangers’ #1 right-winger. While he has seen time playing with Chris Kreider and Mika Zibanejad, he never truly got to run with it because Gerard Gallant did not want to use him there.
With Gallant gone, the new coach is going to have no choice but to give him the chance to play 20-25 games on the top line. In the time that Kakko had with Kreider and Zibanejad, the line looked great together. They were generating offense and they could also be relied on defensively if they got stuck in their own end. We will never truly understand why Gallant didn’t want to use Kakko in that position, but now it’s Kakko’s turn to seize the opportunity that is in front of him and run with it.
Another reason why Kakko could be poised to break out is that he is been improving in each of his first four seasons with the Rangers. While he hasn’t put up top numbers, he is becoming more of a contributor the more time he has played. He had a career-high 18 goals and 40 points in 82 games last season. His previous career highs were 10 goals and 23 points. Those were from his rookie season. Even when he’s not scoring, he is becoming a dominant player when is come to puck possession. When you see him on the boards and in the corners, it’s difficult for the opposition to knock the puck off his stick.
He protects the puck tremendously and it gives his teammates time to get set up for scoring opportunities. Many of them compared him to Jaromir Jagr in regards to how well he can control the puck and dominate down low. He is still only 22 years old and won’t be 23 until February. He still has plenty of time to get better and become an even better 200-foot player.
Kakko is entering the final year of a two-year deal he signed with the Rangers in 2022. If he is able to have a breakout season and put up big numbers, he is going to demand a big raise and Rangers can’t afford to lose him. Kakko should have all the motivation in the world to play his best next season because if he does, he will get he big contract that he wants and he will prove to the Rangers that he is worth the money. If he wants the money, he is going to have to earn it by playing the best hockey in his entire career.
Kakko has had an up-and-down time as a New York Rangers. While it hasn’t been what everyone expected it to be, the future is still very bright for this player. He is playing well at the World Championships for Finland and he has the rest of summer to train and prepare for the biggest season of his career so far. If he can live up to his potential, it won’t only be good for him, but for the entire Ranger organization.