Since he was drafted 2nd overall in 2019, Kaapo Kakko has been a divisive figure for Ranger fans. Some adore the Finnish wunderkind; others want to see him moved out the door because he is too soft. While I think it is fair to say that Kakko has not lived up to the hype of the player that was supposed to challenge Jack Hughes for the spot of the first overall pick, he’s not a minor leaguer, as some Ranger fans like to insist.
It’s been modest progress for the Finnish right winger. Due to some circumstances beyond his control, like the world shutting down, his development at the NHL level is behind where we, as fans, would probably like it to be. However, there is a big difference between a stagnating player and a player needing time to improve modestly. We could see Kakko continue on the development track he’s on and get to more respectable totals.
Last season, Kakko had 18 goals and 22 assists for 40 points in 82 games. That’s not ideal. However, it’s up from 7 goals and 11 assists in 43 games the year before. That is a 34-point pace. He’s getting better, but there’s a lot of room for drastic improvement, which is what many fans are asking for this season from the young Finn. It’s a lot of pressure, but you’ll get that on a good team in a major market.
If Kakko can break 60 points this season and answer the question of who will steal the other top six right-wing spots, the Rangers will be in very good hands. With the departures of Kane and Tarasenko in free agency, someone will have to step up and cement themselves in the holes the Rangers tried to address with their additions. Whether that is Kaapo Kakko or one of the other kids, there’s a chance for a bigger role.
Under a new coach, there will be pains at the beginning of the season. A new coach combined with roster turnover will do that. But there is a former 2nd overall pick here that has the ability to set this league on fire. We’ve all been somewhat underwhelmed by what Kakko has done as a member of the Rangers. All we’re asking for is a step. Not a 100-point season, not a point-per-game pace. Just get to the 55-60 point marks and show Ranger fans why you were the only player in that draft class that could rival Jack Hughes.