For the second time in three years, the New Jersey Devils will be selecting first overall in the NHL Draft. Back in 2017, the Devils were fortunate to select Nico Hischier with the top pick. Back then, there was quite a bit of debate of whether or not Nico Hischier or Nolan Patrick should be the top pick. Jack Hughes has long been considered the top prospect for the 2019 draft but some feel that he has a legitimate challenger for the top spot now. An impressive draft year that saw Kaapo Kakko excel against professional players in Finland’s top league, Liiga, as well as at the U20 and senior levels in international play, has propelled him up the rankings and put him in the conversation for the #1 spot. Let’s get to know more about Kakko in this profile.
Who is Kaapo Kakko?
According to his EliteProspects page, Kaapo Kakko is a 6’2, 190 lbs. left handed right wing from Turku, Finland. He was born on February 13, 2001 thus making him 18 years old. Kakko came up through the TPS youth system and has risen all the way to the senior team that plays in the Finnish top division, Liiga. Thanks to EliteProspects we can go back to see how he has performed since the 2015-16 season where he spent it with the TPS U16 team as a 14 year old. Across 25 regular season games in the Jr. C SM-sarja, Kakko put up 14 goals and 12 assists which was good for the 4th most goals and 5th most points on his team.
The 2016-17 season would be another step up in competition. In his age 15 season, Kakko would make appearances across the U16, U18, and U20 levels for TPS as well as the U16 and U17 levels for Finland in international competition. He primarily spent the season with the TPS U18 team in the Jr. B SM-sarja, notching 24 goals and 17 assists in 35 games. Those totals would have him lead his team in goals and finish 4th in points which earned him Jr. B SM-sarja Rookie of the Year honors. Kakko would also come up clutch for the team in the playoffs with 7 goals in 5 games. Kakko also got into some limited action at the U20 level with 4 assists in 7 Jr. A SM-liiga games as well as an assist in 3 playoff games. He even had enough time to appear in 2 playoff games for the U16 team where he put up 2 goals and an assist in 2 games. This same season Kakko would make his mark on the international level. He put up 6 goals and 2 assists in 8 U16 games for Finland and played in 3 U17 games.
Kakko’s pre-draft, age 16 season in 2017-18 would also prove to be very successful. He would appear at the U18, U20, and senior levels for TPS and at the U17 and U18 levels for Finland. The bulk of his club season was spent with the TPS U20 team in the Jr. A SM-liiga where he put up 25 goals and 30 assists in 38 games. He would lead that team in goals, assists, and points and earn Jr. A SM-liiga Rookie of the Year honors. Kakko would also make 6 regular season appearances for the U18 team with 7 goals and 4 assists to go along with 5 playoff appearances with 4 goals and 5 assists. He would play in 6 professional games for TPS in Liiga with an assist and 7 shots to his credit. Kakko would be crucial in Finland’s U18 WJC Gold Medal campaign with 4 goals and 6 assists in 7 games. He earn Top 3 Player on Team honors for his efforts.
Kakko would spend his draft season in 2018-19 with TPS in Liiga and Finland’s U20 and senior teams. In 45 regular season games for TPS, Kakko had 22 goals and 16 assists while averaging 5.06 shots per game and 18:11 in ice time. Kakko would lead TPS in goals and finished 3rd in points which is really impressive for a player in his age 17 season. Kakko would also add 4 goals and an assist in 5 playoff games. At the U20 WJC, Kakko would help Finland capture Gold with 2 goals and 3 assists in 7 games. So far through 3 World Championship games at the senior level, Kakko has 5 goals in 3 games on a Finnish squad void of NHL players, making him one of their go to players.
Where is Kaapo Kakko Ranked?
A lot of outlets haven’t released their finalized rankings just yet, but these rankings below will give you an idea of how highly Kaapo Kakko is rated by the scouting community.
- NHL Central Scouting Services: Europe - 1 (Midterm), Europe - 1 (Final)
- Steve Kournianos - The Draft Analyst: 4 (Preseason 400, August 2018), 3 (Top 100, November), 3 (Midseason 400, December 2018), 2 (Top 500, April 2019)
- Future Considerations: 3 (Preliminary Ranking), 2 (Fall Ranking), 2 (Winter Ranking), 2 (Spring Ranking)
- Hockey Prospect: 2 (Top 31, February 28)
- ISS Hockey: 2 (Top 31, May 2019)
- TSN - Craig Button: 2 (March 25, 2019)
- TSN - Bob McKenzie: 2 (Top 15, April 4, 2019)
- Ryan Kennedy - The Hockey News: 2 (Midseason, February 1, 2019)
It seems that Kakko is the consensus 2nd best prospect for the draft, trailing only Jack Hughes. Kakko has improved his draft stock from a top 5 prospect to a top 2 prospect that is challenging for that top spot.
What Others Say About Kaapo Kakko
Steve Kournianos of The Draft Analyst is always a great source of information when trying to learn more about prospects. Below are some excerpts from his scouting report on Kakko:
Blessed with incredibly soft hands and tight-quarter quickness, Kakko is a reliable stickhandler who uses timing plays to either get open or create space for his linemates. It’s hard to call a bigger winger elusive, but Kakko’s shiftiness is both rapid and unpredictable — he constantly lures defenders into a compromising position before exploiting the smallest of windows into an unabated path to the goal.
Kakko uses a variety of moves and fakes to get himself into shooting position, but he doesn’t not require optimal conditions to wire off a blistering, accurate shot that is labeled for the corner or far post. Kappo’s endurance is excellent during the first half of his shifts, but like most larger forwards, he can run out of gas in the middle of a play.
Reading this report, it’s no surprise why Kakko is so highly rated by many in the scouting community. A big winger that knows how to use his size and strength and combine it with high-end skill is desirable for any team. I find it interesting that Kakko is able to both create plays for his teammates or himself while also being a lethal goal scorer. His conditioning could use some improvement based off of this report, but that’s something that can come with time in training.
Ben Kerr of Last Word on Hockey is another great resource for draft prospect info. Below are some parts of his scouting report on Kakko separated by various parts of his game.
The best part of his skating though is his strength and balance...He also has very good agility and edgework. This allows him to make quick changes in direction or speed to beat defenders in one-on-one situations.
Re: Offensive Game
He has the soft hands to stickhandle in a phone booth and can protect the puck and extend plays. His wrist shot is extremely powerful and features a very quick release. He also has an effective one-timer...He protects the puck well down low and extends plays. He works well at winning battles on the boards as well as establishing his position in front of the net.
Re: Defensive Game
His ability to anticipate what opponents will do allows him to intercept passes and start the transition game. Kakko is committed to supporting the defence down low and fighting hard on the backcheck.
Another glowing report which shouldn’t come as a surprise for a player of Kakko’s caliber. He’s big but knows how to use his above average skating, hockey IQ, and work ethic to be an effective player in all three zones.
Back in January, Ryan Kennedy of The Hockey News had this article on Kakko and why he is the “real deal” for the NHL Draft. Below are some of the parts that I wanted to highlight:
“Kaapo is a skilled player,” said Finland coach Jussi Ahokas. “Really good in the corners, sees the game really well, passes well and he’s got really good character. He’s going to be a great NHL player, he has all the capacity.”
“I feel more comfortable on the wing but I can play center,” Kakko said through translator and teammate Aarne Talvitie. “I think I get more offensive opportunities as a winger, so in this tournament I like it more on the wing.”
It’s encouraging to read that Finland’s coach thought highly of Kakko’s ability to see the game, battle hard in the corners, and possess good character. It’s interesting that Kakko mentions being more comfortable on the wing as he does have some experience at center. I think most coaches out there would want to keep him on the wing to maximize his goal scoring ability though.
A Little Video
The first video comes from Hockey Prospects Center on YouTube and is a highlight of his 2018-19 Liiga season. You can see him utilize all of his high end tools throughout this extensive highlight package.
The next video, also from Hockey Prospects Center on YouTube is a highlight package from Kakko’s 2019 WJC where he helped Finland capture Gold.
An Opinion of Sorts
I think that Kaapo Kakko is a fantastic, elite prospect that has rightfully earned his status as one of the top prospects available in this year’s draft class. I believe Kakko will turn into a very productive NHL player and be able to contribute right away. With that said, I still have Jack Hughes ahead of him in my rankings as I think he has the higher overall potential due to his elite skating and playmaking abilities. That’s not to say that Kakko can’t do those things as he skates above average for his size and is able to create plays with his vision. I just feel in the whole Hughes vs. Kakko debate that Hughes has the better chance at being at that elite level in the NHL, especially in those skills.
Still, Kakko is a very exciting prospect and one that I don’t look forward to watching the Devils face as the New York Rangers are likely to select him second overall. Kakko deserves credit for constantly improving his skating, passing, and defensive games this season to rise up the draft rankings. His shot is absolutely filthy and definitely makes you think of him as a future 40 goal scorer in the NHL at some point in his career. It will definitely be interesting to see how he makes the transition to the North American game. I think he’ll be fine as he has been playing against men in Finland and already has the size with a “pro-style” game under his wing.
What are your thoughts on Kaapo Kakko as a prospect? Would you prefer to see the Devils select Kaapo Kakko over Jack Hughes with the first overall pick? Are there any parts of his game that stand out to you in a positive or negative way? Leave your comments below and thank you for reading!