Kaapo Kakko
Jack Hughes got paid but what about Kaapo Kakko? Is it too soon to declare Kakko a bust? The Rangers picked Kakko second overall behind Hughes and things aren’t going well. (Getty Images/Bruce Bennett)

Is It Too Soon To Declare Kaapo Kakko A Bust?

Jack Hughes was the first overall pick in the 2019 NHL Draft. Hughes just got paid too signing a big money extension with the Devils. Kaapo Kakko was the second overall pick in that draft. Kakko has… done… nothing? Now that Hughes is starting to emerge as a force with Jersey, the focus has to shift to Kakko. The New York Rangers are really starting to turn the corner but their young phenom sure as shit isn’t.

Is it too soon to declare Kaapo Kakko a bust? Time is running out. A number of players from that 2019 NHL Draft are really starting to make an impact beyond just Hughes. Bowen Byram and Moritz Seider both look like top line defensemen for years to come. Trevor Zegras looks like a superstar. Alex Newhook, Dylan Cozens, Cole Caufield, and Spencer Knight have all shown flashes. Hell, even Peyton Krebs showed his worth as the main ticket item for Vegas to acquire Jack Eichel.

We’re still waiting for Kakko, Kirby Dach, and Alex Turcotte to not look lost. OR in Turcotte’s case, make an NHL debut. While Hughes looks significantly better with the pure eye test, Kakko’s numbers aren’t super far off.

Hughes: 120 games – .17 goals per game, .29 assists per and .46 points.

Kakko: 130 games – .17 goals per, .18 assists per and .35 points.

Hughes’ numbers have a much larger gap in 5 on 5 play but still. There feels like there is a much bigger gap there. Hughes also plays on a far inferior Devils team where points aren’t as easy to come by. Hughes’ breakout season this year also warranted the big contract. Small sample size, of course, but Hughes is currently sporting a wild 40% shooting percentage. Hughes is starting to emerge and it feels like we haven’t quite seen the best of him.

There has been a lot of experimenting with lines but Kakko is currently playing with Mika Zibanejad and Chris Kreider on the top unit. In 16 games Kakko has 6 points. Current linemate Kreider has 15 goals. What does that tell you?

The underlying numbers on Kakko aren’t great which was probably obvious. The Corsi sits at 48 and Fenwick at 47.6. It matches the eye test. Kakko looks lost way more often than not.

Finances are going to come into play and Kakko needs a new contract already at the end of the season. Top draft picks usually get paid big time extensions or someone will come in with an offer sheet hoping more is in the tank. Jesperi Kotkaniemi is maybe a great example who really didn’t show much outside of a weird playoff come run in Montreal. Carolina came in with a high offer sheet. Now, maybe there are some other extenuating factors behind that, but still. Do we really believe the Rangers will be able to retain Kakko with a low ball offer while he is still figuring his shit out?

The Rangers are going to face a cap crunch at some point. Zibanejad and Adam Fox got massive extensions this offseason. Artemi Panarin is already locked up to a big contract. More importantly, linemate Ryan Strome is due for a raise. Based on the chemistry Panarin and Strome have, that has to be a priority for the Rangers. Oh, and the Alexis Lafreniere’s second contract is up a year later but that’s a story for another day.

Back to Strome, he is 21st among NHL centers in points per game and ninth in assists per since the start of 2019-20. Strome isn’t necessarily a name that stands out but he’s a really underrated player and Panarin likes him. He’s going to get a raise from his current $4.5 million AAV. Are you good with letting Strome walk for the possibility of Kakko figuring it out?

It may be too soon for the Rangers to declare Kaapo Kakko a bust, but they’re going to have to choose their fate at some point. The 2021-2022 NHL season is still young and maybe Kakko catches lightning in a bottle but watching Hughes start to light it up in Jersey has to bring a sad face to any Ranger fan who has to wonder if Hughes could have been the missing piece to another Cup winner.

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