As the 2019 NHL Draft approaches, we'll profile some of the top prospects available. We start things off with the top-ranked International Skater.
Video: Kaapo Kakko lands at No. 2 on Draft Prospects list
Weight: 194 lbs
NHL Central Scouting Ranking: No. 1 among European Skaters
The Finnish phenom stole the show at the 2019 IIHF World Championships this offseason, putting a stamp on what has already been a phenomenal draft year.
Kakko scored six goals and added an assist in 10 games, helping Finland win a gold medal at the men's tournament. This came following a gold-medal run at the World Juniors earlier this year.
"Kaapo Kakko is a very good player," said TSN Director of Scouting Craig Button. "We saw what he did at the World Championships. That's just one sample size of him. He's done very well, he's got very good skills and the ability to impact the game in a very different way than [fellow top prospect Jack Hughes]."
Kakko ended his 2018-19 regular season with 22 goals and 16 assists in 45 games for TPS in Liiga. His 22 tallies led his team and were a new record for most by a draft-eligible prospect in Finland's top league. That passed Aleksander Barkov's mark of 21 in 2012-13.
The offensively dynamic and feisty forward is ranked first among European skaters by NHL Central Scouting.
"On the world stage, he's already delivered," said Director of NHL Central Scouting Dan Marr. "[He scored a] big goal for Finland when they won at the World Juniors. Outstanding performance for being one of the youngest players in the tournament at the World Championships. You have a chance to bring a player who is a world champion into your lineup before he's even attended an NHL training camp and that's pretty special. He's a complete package and he's going to have a strong future ahead of him because he's already physically developed and has a couple of years of experience playing at the pro level so he's as game-ready as you're going to find in this NHL Draft."
Video: MSG Networks | Stan Fischler on Kaapo Kakko
Per the IIHF, Kakko became the youngest player to win gold at the Under-18, World Juniors and World Championships, surpassing Edmonton's Connor McDavid.
"When you look at Kakko, he's so strong, he's so smart, he's so good around the net and, really, we've seen a huge ascendence from him," said Senior Writer for The Hockey News Ryan Kennedy. "I think he's going to be a force on the wing. I think he's a player who can go right to the NHL and there's a lot of upside there."
Kakko did not attend the NHL Scouting Combine, choosing instead to stay in Finland and celebrate with his teammates after they took home gold at the World Championships. The Devils will get an opportunity to speak with him closer to the draft.
"THAT WINNING PEDIGREE"
"Here's a guy who is playing a man's game and very successful playing in a very difficult league, but also a guy who had the ability to adjust and get back to his own age group where maybe they're a step slower or not thinking the game as quickly. To be able to make that adjustment mid-season is really impressive for me. But the thing that really rings for me when it comes to Kakko is the fact that I look at [Aleksander] Barkov, [Patrik] Laine, [Jesperi] Kotkaniemi, [Mikko] Rantanen and you're talking about guys who in their draft year were playing in the Liiga, yet the numbers for Kakko are all within or above some of those ranges. Barkov, you could consider him to be a top-20 player in the world. Rantanen is probably a top-25 player in the world. Kotkaniemi had a decent rookie year but maybe tailed off a little bit at the end, but these are guys who have become big parts of their teams. I can't help but think some of their numbers do ring with where Kaapo Kakko is and you're looking at a men's world championship or you're looking at a world junior championship and it's great to have that winning pedigree." - Sportsnet analyst Sam Cosentino
"HE HAS THE NATURAL SCORING ABILITY"
"I've described Kakko for me as one of the very best low offensive zone power forwards I've seen at his age in a long, long time. That left shot coming off the right side, has man-strength, instincts, reads off the puck very well and can get to the inside against men as we saw at the Worlds and he has the natural scoring ability. Not saying other parts of his game aren't at a very high level but that's what he does at an elite, elite level - that sort of game below the faceoff circles in the offensive zone." - Devils Senior Director of Player Personnel Dan MacKinnon