If you haven’t heard of Kaapo Kakko yet, his name will be the talk of the hockey world in the upcoming months, and likely years after that as well.
Kakko is a 17 year old Finnish winger who is scouted as one of the top prospects for the upcoming NHL Entry Draft. Although Jack Hughes still holds the unanimous title as the likely first overall pick, Kakko has done everything possible to raise his stock and push for a potential first overall selection. If Hughes does get taken first overall, than Kakko will be an excellent “consolation” prize for the team who selects second. Listed at 6’2″ and 190lbs, Kakko is currently playing for TPS Turku in Finland’s highest league, SM-liiga. In 28 games played this season, Kakko currently sits 5th on the team in scoring tallying 9 goals and 20 points. He is currently scoring at a .71 point-per-game pace and to use a current player as a reference, Florida Panthers’ Aleksander Barkov tallied .90 point-per-game as a 17 year in the SM-liiga. Although this can’t guarantee translated success like it has for Barkov, it does show plenty of promise that Kakko has an incredibly high level of talent to be doing so well playing against men sometimes double his age.
Another lucrative part of Kakko’s game is that he’s a versatile forward that can play at multiple positions. On Elite Prospects Kakko is listed as a winger, but has been seeing more playing time as a center for Turku as the season moves on. This gives whatever team that drafts him the ability to either mold him into a top line center, or reap the benefits of his offensive ability and let him play on the wing.
“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.”
Most recently Kakko found himself back on the wing during the 2019 World Juniors where Kakko was vital in helping Finland capture the gold medal against the United States. In 7 games played Kakko scored 2 goals and 5 points including the golden goal in the Finals against the United States to give Finland a 3-2 lead with less than 2 minutes remaining. This was good enough to help Finland capture gold for the third time since 2014.
Kakko has not only just shown international success this year for Finland, but was vital in helping the country capture a gold medal in the U18 World Juniors last year where he scored 4 goals and 10 points in 7 games played. Finland would certainly love to have Kakko back next year to help them try and repeat this year’s World Juniors success, but his NHL team might get in the way of that happening.
Elite Prospects also had this to say regarding Kakko:
“A quick-thinking winger, Kakko never seems to be in a rush. He reads the game exceptionally well and finds himself a step ahead while the play is still developing. He is confident with the puck and capable of handling it in small spaces. With decent size for a player of his age, Kakko protects the puck well and uses his high hockey IQ to make smart offensive plays. He plays a mature game and is already strong enough to compete with men in the Finnish Liiga. Kakko excels offensively and beats opponents with smarts and skill both on and off the puck. (Matias Strozyk, 2018)”
Although the months leading up to this year’s draft has all but indicated that Jack Hughes will be selected first overall, Kaapo Kakko has not only solidified himself as the number two pick, but is making a case for first overall as well. Regardless of what position he’s selected at, the team that gets him will be in for a treat.