Hartnett: Patience Is Key For Rangers' Kaapo Kakko


The most important word surrounding the development of Rangers rookie Kaapo Kakko is patience. What was clear on draft day remains the same with 13 regular season games left on the schedule. Kakko is a supremely talented young forward, but he’s far from the finished product.

Fans should not expect Kakko to suddenly match the point-per-game production of fellow forwards Artemi Panarin and Mika Zibanejad after his two-goal outburst against the Dallas Stars on Tuesday. Kakko tallied his ninth and 10th goals of the season, helping the Blueshirts to a 4-2 victory.

Nor should they fear the worst when he endures typical rookie year growing pains. Kakko entered Tuesday’s contest with one goal and two assists over his previous 15 games. There’s going to be peaks and valleys this year and possibly the next.

After all, Kakko is 19 years old. This is his first season on North American ice and the first time he’s had to manage the workload of an 82-game schedule. It’s going to take a combination of time, patience and hard work for Kakko to realize his full potential.

Kaapo's ------. pic.twitter.com/pK5VgTfinF

— New York Rangers (@NYRangers) March 11, 2020

And let’s make no mistake. Kakko's potential is enormous. At minimum, he will eventually mature into an All-Star caliber talent. He has the strength, the hands, the hockey sense, the elusiveness and shooting accuracy needed to become a dominant wing. He’ll get there in due time.

Perhaps Tuesday’s performance was proof of the 6-foot-3 Finn’s gradual adaptation to the demands of hockey’s highest level. His second goal was scored with artistry. Kakko’s superb stickhandling caused Stars goaltender Ben Bishop to flail wildly with an unsuccessful poke check. Once Bishop strayed beyond his crease, it was as simple as sliding the puck into the open net.

Importantly, Kakko has recorded a point or better (two goals, one assist) in two of the last three games. The biggest challenge for any young NHLer is to string together consistent performances night after night.

Wednesday’s encounter with the Colorado Avalanche will be a prime opportunity for Kakko to demonstrate whether he’s capable of being a more consistent player at a time when the Rangers need every player to bring their A-game. The Rangers sit three points from the second wild card spot occupied by the Columbus Blue Jackets.

If Kakko can add a measure of late-season reliability, he could make the difference in the Rangers’ playoff push.

Follow Sean on Twitter: @HartnettHockey