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Kakko Aims to Make Immediate Impact in NHL

Finnish forward had a season to remember

by Dylan Wheeler / ColoradoAvalanche.com

ColoradoAvalanche.com is profiling draft-eligible prospects leading up to the 2019 NHL Draft in Vancouver on June 21-22. Forward Kaapo Kakko is the No. 1-ranked International skater in NHL Central Scouting's final rankings. The Avalanche has the fourth and 16th overall selections in the first round of the draft.


Kaapo Kakko is no stranger to winning.

At just 18 years of age, Kakko has won IIHF world championships at three different levels, all of which have come in a 13-month span.

In April 2018, Kakko helped his home country of Finland capture the gold medal at the U18 World Championship, nabbing 10 points (four goals, six assists) in seven games, tying him for the third-most points in the tournament. He was also named one of Team Finland's top three players at the event.

This past season, Kakko scored the game-winning goal against the United States with 1:26 remaining to clinch the World Junior Championship (under 20) for the Finns on Jan. 5, 2019 at Rogers Arena in Vancouver--which happens to be the same place he will go later this month for the NHL Draft. One of the youngest players in the tournament, the 17-year-old at the time finished with five points (two goals, three assists) in seven games.

Most recently, on May 26, 2019, Kakko aided a Finnish team with minimal NHL experience to the gold medal in Men's World Championship. The left-shooting winger had six markers in the tournament, tying him for seventh overall in goals and two behind the Worlds' leader. And he did it all while playing against mainly professional players, many of whom are current NHLers.

He is the youngest player in IIHF history to win gold medals at each of the three events.

The Turku, Finland, native's success on the international stage has put him in the discussion as one of the top players in the 2019 draft. Kakko was rated the best International skater by NHL Central Scouting during the mid-term rankings in January and held firm to the No. 1 spot when the final rankings were released in April.

Kakko is looking to become the highest drafted Finland-born player in NHL history, as no Finn has ever been selected first overall. However, three have been chosen with the second overall pick: Kari Lehtonen in 2002, Aleksander Barkov in 2013 and Patrick Laine in 2016.

This past year, the 6-foot-2, 194-pound forward broke Barkov's single-season goal record for an under-18 player in Liiga--Finland's top professional league--after scoring 22 times in 45 games. His 22 markers tied him for sixth overall in Liiga and led his hometown club, TPS Turku, the same organization that the Colorado Avalanche's Mikko Rantanen played for before he was drafted 10th overall in 2015.

Overall, the top prospect finished his first full professional season with 38 points (22 goals, 16 assists). He got his first taste of pro hockey in 2017-18 when he appeared in six games for TPS.

"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," said NHL director of European Scouting Goran Stubb. "He's strong on his skates, battles well and could be NHL ready as soon as next season since he played two seasons against men in Liiga."

When assessing himself, Kakko told NHL.com that his offensive abilities are key attributes to his game.

"I can score and create chances and am good with the puck. I guess those are my strengths. Hopefully I'm ready for the (NHL)," Kakko said. "I still have a lot of work to do and need to get stronger and faster in the corners. I know I'm good with the puck, but that's one area in my game I can still improve."

Kakko showed this past season that he has what it takes at the Finnish pro and international levels. He'll now look to prove it in the NHL.

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