KOSICE, Slovakia — Kaapo Kakko is making his push to become the No. 1 pick in the 2019 NHL Draft.
Kakko, a right wing with TPS in Liiga, Finland’s top professional league, has six goals in four games, tied for the lead at the 2019 IIHF World Championship.
Playing for Finland and against many of the same players he could be facing in the NHL next season, he also has a plus-8 rating and 20 shots on goal in four games at the tournament.
“This is a big thing for me for the draft,” Kakko said through a translator. “I think I can be the first (pick).”
Jack Hughes, No. 1 in NHL Central Scouting’s final ranking of North American skaters for the 2019 Draft, and Kakko, No. 1 in Central Scouting’s final ranking of International skaters, are the consensus top two picks of the draft, which will be at Rogers Arena in Vancouver on June 21-22.
Hughes has 11 shots on goal and zero points in four games for the United States.
“I’ve played well,” Kakko said. “I haven’t paid much attention to Jack Hughes and his game, but I’m confident I’ve been able to let everyone see my skills and the level of my game. It’s not going to be an easy choice for the teams.”
The New Jersey Devils have the No. 1 pick in the 2019 Draft after winning the NHL Draft Lottery on April 9. The New York Rangers have the No. 2 selection.
Kakko would be the first Finland-born player to be selected No. 1 at the NHL Draft.
“Kakko is a two-way player who is dangerous around the net and knows when he has to move the puck quickly and when to be patient,” NHL Director of European Scouting Goran Stubb said. “He’s strong on his skates, battles well and could be NHL ready as soon as next season since he played two seasons (51 games) against men in Liiga.”
The 6-foot-2, 194-pound forward scored 22 goals in 45 games this season, setting a Liiga record for under-18 players; Aleksander Barkov (Florida Panthers) scored 21 goals for Tappara in 2012-13. Kakko’s 38 points are third on the single-season list of Liiga players 18 and under, behind Barkov, who had 48 in 2012-13, and Mikael Granlund (Nashville Predators) who had 40 for HIFK in 2009-10.
Kakko also scored the game-winning goal with 1:26 remaining in the third period of the gold-medal game of the 2019 IIHF World Junior Championship to give Finland a 3-2 win against the U.S. He had five points (two goals, three assists) in seven games at the tournament.
He’s continued that high level of play against a higher level of competition at the World Championship.
“He’s really good,” said Finland defenseman Henri Jokiharju (Chicago Blackhawks), who played with Kakko at the World Juniors and now at the World Championship. “He’s a good hockey player. It’s obvious. Everyone can tell that. It’s big for the team that he can step up in huge moments and put the puck in the net.
“He was already a good player in the World Juniors. You could tell. He took even more steps after that, it was a huge confidence boost for him as well. He’s playing really good hockey right now. He’s keeping the puck, protecting the puck and being strong with the puck. He’s really good. He’s dominating down low with the puck.”
While Hughes has been expected to be the first player picked at the draft for most of the season, at the very least Kakko is doing his best to give New Jersey reason to debate.
“It’s great that people are interested in me and my game, of course,” Kakko said. “I’m glad I’ve been able to play well and execute.
“There are so many great NHL players in this tournament and it’s huge I’ve been able to play well against them. I’m hoping I could play in the NHL.”
Originally published at https://www.nhl.com/news/nhl-draft-prospect-kappo-kakko-impressing-at-world-championship/c-307450804