The World Championships were a coming-out party for Kaapo Kakko, who spent the last year tearing up Finland’s top pro league, before proving on an international stage that he can do more than just hang with the world’s best. The 18-year-old winger lit up Worlds for six goals in 10 games as Finland took the gold, beating a whole bunch of teams loaded with NHL players (including Canada, who they beat 3-1 in the final).
Kakko’s last year and his last month have been so impressive that he’s even forcing a tough decision at the top of the draft. Formerly the clear No. 2 pick behind Jack Hughes, Kakko might now very well be a valid top pick. (Maybe. It’s unclear how much of the Kakko hype is legit, how much is recency bias, and how much is the Rangers and their fans, holding the second pick, trying to will the Devils into taking Kakko so Hughes falls to them.) It’s a really tough call for New Jersey! And they won’t have the NHL Scouting Combine to help them make their decision.
Kakko is skipping this week’s Combine. Recovering from bumps and bruises suffered at Worlds? No. Knowing that his draft stock isn’t going to fall by his absence? Yes, but no. Mostly, it’s because Kaapo Kakko is a teen who’d rather have a good time.
“[C]ircumstances such as a late World Championship schedule and country celebration prevent him from attending,” Kakko’s agent Mike Liut said in an email to NHL.com.
“It’s important to understand the World Championship is the Stanley Cup for countries outside North America.
“The celebration will take up most of this week and Kaapo should attend every minute. The NHL clubs I spoke to fully support Kaapo’s participation with his team and country.”
There was a public celebration in Helsinki on Monday, but it’s unclear what Team Finland’s official schedule is for the rest of the week, or even if there are any more formal events. The kid’s a national hero and he’s definitely not buying his own drinks this week. Would you want to give that up to fly to Buffalo to work out and do a bunch of job interviews?
Hughes is at the Combine, and a good showing could restore the aura of can’t-miss about him that he had a year ago. Though he probably doesn’t even need to do that. Hughes-Kakko feels a lot like Matthews-Laine, not just in player types but in the sense that you can’t really go wrong with either. Or maybe the better comp for Kakko is Alex Ovechkin: he can score like no one’s business and he can celebrate for a week straight.