In the famous movie, “The Godfather,” we learned that a “capo” is a “captain or a skipper” who is in charge of “soldiers” or “enforcers” who report directly to him. Sal Tessio was Don Corleone’s Capo. The Rangers have their own Kaapo. He’s an 18-year old phenom who can also shoot but he fires pucks, not a gun, and reports directly to the net.
The second overall pick of the NHL Draft is beginning to live up to the hype. Kakko’s skills were front and center last night as he scored twice, including the game winner in overtime, to lead the Rangers to a 3-2 win over the Pittsburgh Penguins.
In the first period, Kakko took a beautiful pass from Brendan Lemieux and broke in on Penguins goalie Matt Murray. The Ranger rookie made a few moves before calmly backhanding the puck past Murray who was down on the ice and totally fooled. Kakko made a difficult play look so easy and the Rangers had a 1-0 lead.
In overtime, Kakko was again the beneficiary of a gorgeous pass. Fellow rookie defenseman Adam Fox found Kakko on the left wing side, fed him the puck with what appeared to be a “no look” pass and the young Ranger deflected the puck past Murray to cap off an impressive evening. “I saw him come behind me, thought about dropping it and then they kinda let me take the middle, saw him on the back door, obviously nice play to tip that in,” Fox said afterwards in the victorious locker room. Kappo cited his teammate’s effort to get him the puck. “Great pass by Foxy, that was amazing for me,” said the young Finnish star. (who answers in English and doesn’t use a translator) “It’s always so fun to score in overtime.”
With his two goals last night, Kakko now has 6 in 16 games, but five of those have come in the last seven games. It’s no coincidence that the Rangers have won five of those seven games with one of the losses coming in a shootout against Florida this past Sunday.
Earlier this season, the Rangers were in the midst of a five game, winless streak and Kakko was frustrated with his game. “Hockey isn’t very much fun for me right now,” he said at the time. “I don’t want to hear any talk about how I’m the youngest guy and I need to be given time to get use to the play-style.” For an 18-year old to say that, it showed that he is a mature young man.
After last night’s game, I asked Kakko where he thought his game was now as compared to earlier in the season. “It’s getting better, it’s always good to score a couple of goals.” Coach David Quinn has noticed a difference in Kakko’s demeanor of late. “Just talking to him, the way he walks around now,” said Quinn, “There’s a whole new level of swagger to him that I hadn’t seen since he got here, not only on the ice, but off the ice.”
Kakko has been doing all this while playing on the third line with Brett Howden and Lemieux. It’s just a matter of time before Kakko will be a staple on the top line. Quinn is not concerned about taking his young stud off of a line where he has had success. “I think he’s a guy who’s played pro hockey before,” Quinn said after the game. “He’s played in the world championships so he’s not gonna be intimidated by any other challenge that’s presented to him. I’m not worried about moving him up.”
It’s not just offensively where Kakko has improved. In the Rangers’ win at Carolina earlier this month, the Rangers were protecting a one goal lead in the third period. Late in the game, the Hurricanes pulled their goalie for the extra skater to try and tie the game. The puck was in Carolina’s end and Kakko checked one of Carolina’s players into the boards to keep the play alive. Eventually, the puck came out to Fox who scored the empty netter to give the Rangers a huge road win.
Quinn has used Kakko on the #1 power play unit and he hasn’t hesitated to put the youngster on the ice late in close games. Barring any unforeseen circumstances, it’s just a matter of time before Kakko develops into a player who may end up being the best one that the “Blueshirts” have ever drafted.