Finnish hockey has seen a great boom in top-end talent over the last decade. Star players like Sebastian Aho, Aleksander Barkov, Patrik Laine, Mikko Rantanen, among others, are being produced out of the newest hockey powerhouse. They have more coming in Anton Lundell, Aatu Raty, and Brad Lambert in future drafts.
But the next great Finn who is ready to set the world on fire is winger Kaapo Kakko. A player whose game resembles hockey hall of famer Peter Forsberg. Kakko’s dominance down-low with his strength is unsettling. This kid bullied men all year-long with how strong on the puck he is, and played like a superstar wherever he went. Be it league play, the World Juniors, or the Mens World Championships — Kakko thrived. His combination of high-end skill and incredible toughness makes him a one of a kind prospect — one who will bring an immediate impact to the NHL as soon as next season.
|Birthday||February 13, 2001|
Skating: 55 – Puck Skills: 65 – Hockey IQ/Sense: 65 – Physicality: 65
Kakko is a physical specimen. He already looks like a man. No one in this draft is better at using their body to protect the puck. He can will his way across the ice if need be. His strength makes him a mismatch below the goal-line, being able to muscle anyone off the puck. Some of his most dominant sequences are him doing laps in the offensive zone because no one is strong enough to knock him off the puck.
In tight checking situations he is a force as well, bringing many different elements that remind you of some of the best to ever do it. He’s got a massive reach like Jaromir Jagr, a strong backside to ward off opponents like Sidney Crosby, and the nastiness to throw the body around like Peter Forsberg.
It’s because of Kakko’s elite ability of extending plays that so many of his brilliant moments aren’t just one simple act, but rather a multitude of plays that tire out the opponents.
You can see from some of the clips above it isn’t all brute force that Kakko plays with. He is elusive and can create something out of nothing with how patient he is. He can turn out of trouble and dangle through defenders. His hands are buttery soft and allow him to dance through traffic.
His shot is elite as well. Kakko can score from range with a powerful shot. You can use him a variety of ways on the man advantage. The powerplay unit can flow through him on the half-wall because of how smart and dynamic he is or he can play the top of the circle as the triggerman.
Also promising is the control he has over a game. The command Kakko plays with is outstanding. When he wants the puck its his puck. Wingers who drive play at a high-level are hard to come by, but with some experience at center, Kakko has certainly learned a thing or two on how to control a game. Long-term he projects on the wing because he is at his best down-low, rather than having to play higher up to commit to his defensive responsibilities more. Also because he doesn’t have the top-gear to fly down the center of the ice. He is better suited transitioning play from the wing because he can protect the puck along the wall.
We saw just how devastating Kakko can be in his league play in Finland’s top pro league. Versus men he had a historic goal scoring season for an under-18 player.
Statistics via eliteprospects.com
With 22 goals on the season, Kakko set the Liiga record for most goals by a U18 player in league history. He outscored names like Aleksander Barkov, Patrik Laine, and Mikael Granlund. In terms of points, he sits third all-time behind Barkov and Granlund. What Kakko did against men this year cannot be understated. His play at the World Championships further emphasized that point. Kakko recorded 6 goals and 7 points in 10 games. He didn’t just look like he belonged but he was one of Team Finland’s best players. To have that kind of maturity at 18 years old is just crazy.
On the biggest stages Kakko always delivered. He took home the gold medal in all three of the IIHF tournaments he participated in — the U18s, World Juniors, and World Championships — something no other player has ever done before the draft of their first eligible season.
Kakko has the potential to become the best winger in the NHL one day. He is already so amazing, I can only imagine what he’ll be doing at age 26. No other player in this draft class has the talent and toughness that he does. He did everything in his power to push for first overall on my board and came up just short, but don’t be fooled — Kakko is a star talent, one deserving of going first overall in most other years. Players like this shouldn’t be going second overall.
In time, Kakko will soon become the face of Finnish hockey and a force to be reckoned with in the NHL.
There is no doubt in my mind Kakko will be in the NHL next season. He is too skilled and physically prepared to not be. He won’t just be here for the learning experience, though. Kakko will be an immediate impact player who will most likely be the early favorite to win the Calder Trophy. He should be able to flirt with around 30 goals.
The early success won’t be his peak of course. He will only get better and be a superstar off the wing. NHL teams be warned.