If you split Kaapo Kakko’s season into two halves, the numbers tell a story. The 18-year-old Finn’s first eight NHL games were a learning process.
Kakko only managed one goal and one assist through his first eight contests against NHL pros. In the eight games that followed, the 6-foot-3 wing scored five goals and added an assist.
There is a clear difference in his confidence, puck control and execution. On Tuesday, Kakko recorded his first career multigoal game, against a heated rival in the Pittsburgh Penguins. Following the 3-2 overtime win, coach David Quinn praised Kakko’s “swagger.”
Then one play changed everything. Fox started an odd-man rush and unleashed a nifty pass to Kakko, who shoveled in the game-winning goal. The Garden erupted.
Kakko joined a list of 13 different 18-year-olds to have scored a regular-season overtime goal. Among some of the names are Steve Yzerman, Rick Nash, Sidney Crosby and countryman Patrik Laine.
After 16 games, Kakko leads all 18-year-olds with six goals this season. His six goals and eight points are already the second most of any 18-year-old in Rangers history. He is currently on pace to finish his rookie season with 30 goals.
If Kakko is already this good at age 18 – then it’s going to be pretty scary for the rest of the league seven years from now when he’s in his prime and has added strength and variety to his flourishing skillset.
Coming over from Liiga (Finland’s highest league), the expectation was that the Rangers would be getting a can’t-miss talent and absolute game-changer in Kakko. At 18, he’s already delivering on his promise and looks every bit a franchise player in the making.