Breathe, we’ve almost made it. We’re two days from NHL players taking the ice at training camp; less than a week from the first preseason games; less than a month from the start of the regular season; and just about nine months from Kaapo Kakko winning the Calder Trophy.
Kakko, the 18-year-old Finnish phenom taken second overall in the draft by the Rangers, is already getting his first taste of NHL-ish competition, at the Traverse City tournament. Would it provide him more of a challenge than, previously, Worlds, or World Juniors, or U18s, or the top Finnish pro league? It would not. On Monday, in a 4-3 win against the Wild’s prospects, Kakko assisted on the Rangers’ first three goals, then took matters onto his own stick for the overtime winner.
Yes, that’s a double wraparound. And before the highlight truthers get in here to mew mew mew about how it’s just against prospects, and how there was an illegal pick, and how they’ve seen more interested defense in an all-star game, let’s concede all that. And then acknowledge that this highlight still shows off the best parts of what we’ve been promised about Kakko’s game: his insane stickhandling, his strong feet and crafty hands and keen eye for what’s happening around him, and a near-preternatural ability to avoid being pushed off the puck.
Oh, and he responds well to coaching:
Kakko figures to be a prime mover in New York’s ground-up rebuild, which is moving faster than maybe even the front office planned. Yet—and this feels weird to say, given all his hype and the natural uncertainty about how a teen will develop—Kakko doesn’t feel like a question mark at all.