Kaapo Kakko, TPS (Liiga)
Position: Left/Right Winger
Age on Draft Day: 18.36 Years Old
Height/Weight: 6’2, 190 pounds
2018-2019 Stats: 45 GP, 22 G, 16 A, 10 PIM
NHL Central Scouting (Europe only): 1st
Bob McKenzie: 2nd
Craig Button: 2nd
ISS Hockey: 2nd
Let’s start with some analysis and video from Alex Nunn, who is one of our European correspondents, followed by some thoughts from myself.
ALEX: Kaapo Kakko is a dynamic offensive prospect capable of playing either wing or center who blends size, smarts, and high-end puck skills for all-round impact.
Standing 6’2” and weighing 190 lbs., 18-year-old Kakko is already able to physically dominate shifts against veteran opposition. He’s big, strong on his skates, and extremely persistent. Kakko uses his frame and reach well to protect the puck in all areas and shield possession during offensive-zone battles. He forechecks and harries relentlessly, reigniting dead plays and often turning nothing into something with a steal and quick set-up.
Editor’s Note: (Watch for number 24 or 34 in all of the following clips)
Kakko’s strength, smooth stick-handling, and excellent balance make him tough to handle in transition. Kakko is able to separate himself from opponents thanks to his powerful stride a good first step, and he’s difficult to knock off the puck easily. Kakko usually always has options and he’s able to navigate traffic with great edge work and retain possession to buy himself time when those options aren’t there.
One thing that really sticks out with Kakko is that innate ability top players have, no matter what they are doing, to seemingly slow things down and draw the next step up. Kakko processes and passes to teammates but seldom looks as though he’s had time to think that far ahead while fighting off stick checks or battling hard in the corner for possession. He knows what he wants to do well ahead of schedule.
Kakko’s awareness and vision are elite. He can thread a puck through any lane and knows exactly where he needs to be in order to execute. Kakko has a good release, too, which makes him a hard problem to pin down. Committing him to either the pass or shot is difficult, and he’s capable of tearing up the script at any point even when managed down a particular route.
While his bread and butter are in the offensive zone, Kakko’s work rate and smarts extend to the defensive zone as well. He’s responsible, reads developing situations well, and knows when to drop deep and fill in. Kakko is always active with his stick and battles hard to win pucks and release pressure in his own end, generally carrying possession through the neutral zone rather than just chipping it away.
It’s hard to find a fault in Kakko’s game and the skills he possesses. He’s a big guy who actually makes it count, with high-end hands, great feet, and the intelligence to position himself where he can best impact the game. Kakko stood out against men at both the club and international levels this season on his way to breaking Alexander Barkov’s Under-18 goalscoring record in Finland’s Liiga.
ADAM: Alex did a great job with his scouting report, so I’ll focus mainly on the statistical side here.
Kakko’s numbers in Liiga this past season were excellent. With 38 points in 45 games, his points-per-game puts him in elite territory compared to some of the best draft-eligible forwards in recent memory.
These numbers look even better in context, though. Kakko’s team, TPS, is not particularly gifted offensively, leaving Kakko to take on the bulk of his team’s production. His point share this past season was 30.9%, meaning that he registered a point on 30.9% of TPS’ goals.
That’s a higher percentage of his team’s production than any player noted above. Patrik Laine, Mikko Rantanen, Sebastian Aho, and Teuvo Teravainen are not even in the ballpark of Kakko, and those are some excellent players.
The numbers are gaudier when isolating just goals. Compared to even the best NHL goal scorers of that bunch, Kakko is in a league of his own.
What’s particularly exciting about Kakko is that he is a goal creator, rather than purely a finisher. He’s not merely setting up at the top of the circle and waiting for the puck to find him, nor is he dependent on quality playmakers. Rather, he’ll actively pursue the puck and make offense happen, as evidenced by the video Alex put together, as well as the fact Kakko ranked 40th among all Liiga forwards in Corsi Close (shot attempts ratio in tied or one-goal games). In fact, he led his team in the metrics. Even as just a 17-year-old, he was heavily tilting the ice in his team’s favor in a league full of grown men.
He’s dominant below the goal line, and that’s going to be his bread-and-butter in the NHL. He tires the opposition because he extends shifts and forces them to exert a lot of energy in their attempts to move him off the puck. I’m not sure I’ve seen a teenager who has better balance; it’s as if he’s one of those free-standing punching bags that never tips over.
He keeps plays alive because he’s constantly moving and pursuing the puck. As such, he creates a lot of second- and third-chance opportunities. That being said, he can still hurt the opposition in other ways. His shot is not Laine-caliber, but he will beat goaltenders clean from distance.
He has enough foot speed to create transition chances. His playmaking abilities are strong, and because he’s so powerful on the puck he creates passing lanes just by drawing bodies towards him.
There are some less polished parts of his game. While skating is not an issue for him, he does lack explosiveness. Defensively, he’s going to have growing pains in terms of positioning once he moves to the NHL, but the effort is there. He was a top penalty kill option for the Fins at the U18s and his defensive metrics in Liiga were fine.
The debate about how good Kakko will be in his prime is nuanced. He’s going to be an impact player. He’s going to be the best, or at worst, second-best, forward on a contending team. Will he be a top-10 NHL scorer? Top-five? Rocket Richard winner? That’s to be determined. But whichever of the Devils or Rangers lands him is gaining a player who is going to make an impact in the NHL next October and put together an all-star resume for the next 15 seasons. Though we officially have him second in our rankings, it should be noted that I was actually out-voted by both Alex and Tobias, who ranked Kakko slightly ahead of Hughes. It’s neck-and-neck between the two prospects, and Kakko would be a justified selection at first overall.
What Others Have Said
“Sometimes I watch him and say, ‘Wow, how did he do that?’”
“I’ve seen highly skilled players like Kakko before. What I don’t typically see are 17-year-old forwards with his skill who can win pucks from grown men consistently.”
- Corey Pronman, the Athletic
“Really good in the corners, sees the game really well, passes well and he’s got really good character. He’s going to be a great NHL player, he has all the capacity.”
- Finland U20 Head Coach Jussi Ahokas, via Hockey News