After coming off a rookie season that had many ups and downs, New York Rangers forward Kaapo Kakko looks like he getting ready to show some of the skills he has when he was drafted second overall by the Blueshirts in 2019.
During the first couple of days of training camp, Kakko is getting the first crack at playing in the departed Jesper Fastâ€™s spot on the right-wing with Artemi Panarin and Ryan Strome. Early reports have also stated that he has looked really good in that spot. And at least one of his linemates has been pleased as well.
â€œHe obviously feels good,â€ Panarin said about Kakko. â€œItâ€™s difficult to judge in these two practices with the very scrambly scrimmages. But obviously, we will see a full picture soon.â€
— Vince Z. Mercogliano (@vzmercogliano) January 6, 2021
In the offseason, Kakko, trained in Turku, Finland other NHL players, according to his agent Mike Liut. The group of Finnish players has a regular offseason training program and facility that many utilize during the offseason.
Kakko showed a few flashes of brilliant play with the Rangers as a rookie but failed to play with consistency or play up to his potential, as he spent most of the season on the third or fourth line and their second power-play unit.
However, following the layoff due to the coronavirus pandemic, Kakko played much better in the three playoff games the Rangers participated in. This improvement has led to the coaching staff giving Kakko the first chance to play on the Panarin line. Hopefully, playing with more skilled linemates along with having a long offseason to get stronger and improve his conditioning should lead to some much-improved play from Kakko.
â€œI like the progression,â€ head coach David Quinn said when asked what he thought of the Panarin line. â€œI think theyâ€™re making strides and creating some offense. Kaapo has just got to learn to play off those two guys. If he does that, continues to go in that direction, that line can be a very effective line for us. He understands the role heâ€™s going to have to play on that line with those two players. That being said, we have also talked with both Bread and Strome about the chemistry on that line and what itâ€™s going to take to have success. Itâ€™s not just one guy. Itâ€™s all three of those guys understanding what their roles are on that line and what theyâ€™re going to have to do to have success.â€
Kakko will be just 20 years old when he celebrates his birthday in February. If he continues to develop and play close to the potential that everyone hopes he can when he was drafted, this second line could be just as good if not a notch better than what it was last season.