New York Rangers: Expectations high for Kakko’s rookie season

Kaapp Kakko, New York Rangers. (Photo by Rich Lam/Getty Images)
Kaapp Kakko, New York Rangers. (Photo by Rich Lam/Getty Images) /

Alas, the hype is about to hit the fan with the highly-anticipated debut of New York Rangers rookie sensation, Kaapo Kakko.

The day has come where the world finally gets a chance to see Kaapo Kakko play at the NHL level, as the New York Rangers kicked off their preseason schedule against the New Jersey Devils at Madison Square Garden. The 18-year-old spark plug will make his unofficial professional debut on the Rangers’ top line alongside Mika Zibanejad and Artemi Panarin. Yikes.

Its is the kind of combination New York has been salivating for since…I can’t even remember, because that’s the most star power on a line in recent memory. This Broadway Blueshirts team is fresh out of the rebuild oven and is exactly what Jeff Gorton has been baking in the kitchen for the past two years: a team of youth, speed, and skill.

This means that there are other young studs who will be alleviating the spotlight pressure from Kakko come the regular season, such as Vitali Kravtsov, Libor Hajek, Adam Fox, as well as familiar faces Filip Chytil and Lias Andersson.

It’s plenty for a teenager to digest, coming to a market like the Big Apple, with the expectations he has. It will be good for him to share that pressure with some other New York Rangers so he can feel a little more comfortable to play his game. If the prospect tournament in Traverse City, Michigan was any preview of what Kakko is really bringing this season, then holy mackerel.

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Kakko had a 4-point game against the Minnesota prospects, which included an overtime winner where he circled the offensive zone until tucking in a backhand wrap around to seal it. A play like that showed the sheer strength and skating advantage this kid had over the field. Granted, most of those guys won’t touch NHL ice this season, but it shows how ready he is to make an impact.

Kakko scored 38 points in 45 games in the Finnish Elite League last year, which preceded a slew of impressive international outings. I am going to project Kakko to eclipse Elias Pettersson‘s 66 points last season and tally 68, while also being named the Calder Trophy winner, as Rookie of the Year. That would make him the ninth Rangers rookie to do so, and the first since Brian Leetch in 1988-89.

Kakko is projected to play this season on the second line along with Chris Kreider and a center to be named later. Regardless of that, the combination of the strength and size of these two guys on the wings is going to be a problem for opponents.

It’s been a long two seasons since the New York Rangers were competitive. But the arrival of Kakko should help Blueshirts fans rejoice and remember that “wow it’s a nice city.”

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Kakko’s draft counterpart, Jack Hughes, did not play Wednesday. That matchup is likely saved for October 17.