Kaapo Kakko of Finland celebrates after scoring the game-winning goal against the United States in the gold medal game of the IIHF World Junior Championship on Jan. 5, 2019, at Rogers Arena in Vancouver, British Columbia.

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Hartnett: Draft Lottery Paves Path For Intriguing Kakko To Join Rangers

Blueshirts Own 2nd Overall Pick

Sean Hartnett
April 10, 2019 - 10:17 am
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After witnessing another teardown season and playoffless spring, Rangers fans had reason to celebrate after the 2019 NHL draft lottery landed the Blueshirts at second overall.

Circle June 21 on your calendar. In 71 days, Gordie Clark, Jeff Gorton and the Rangers’ contingent will in all likelihood step to the podium at Vancouver’s Rogers Arena and announce the selection of highly touted Finnish wing Kaapo Kakko.

Granted, that’s if the lottery-winning Devils take the expected route by drafting speedy American center Jack Hughes first overall. Though Kakko has been described by scouts as having a more NHL-ready body, it’s widely assumed that whoever obtained the top pick won’t hesitate to draft Hughes. Don’t expect the Devils to overthink this.

In the likely scenario that New Jersey selects Hughes, there’s little doubt that the Rangers will follow with Kakko at No. 2.

So, what’s the book on Kakko? The 18-year-old wing blends physical strength, high-end skill and tremendous shot generation. Though some scouts have compared him to Winnipeg winger Patrik Laine, there’s more variety in Kakko’s goal-scoring playbook. As a teenager, Kakko consistently won physical battles against SM-liiga veterans. He knows how to use his 6-foot-2, 194-pound frame to bull his way to the paint.

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His courageous style of play and overall skill allowed him to register 22 goals and 16 assists in 45 games for TPS last season.

Kakko has an excellent pair of hands and the hockey sense to make quick plays on the fly. Though he isn’t a lightning-fast skater, he thinks fast and is tough to move off the puck.

The consensus among scouts is that Kakko is physically and mentally ready to play in the NHL right away in a top-nine role. Rangers fans will have the chance to take a closer look at him during the 2019 IIHF World Championship tournament in May.

After the Rangers dealt away several Garden favorites at consecutive trade deadlines, fans will have something new to be excited about in October. Now that Mika Zibanejad established himself as a genuine franchise center, the probable arrival of Kakko on the wing would add intrigue and spice to the Rangers’ rebuild.

Follow Sean on Twitter at @HartnettHockey.