By Mike G. Morreale / NHL.com Staff Writer
Kaapo Kakko, a right wing with TPS in Liiga, Finland's top professional league, is No. 1 in NHL Central Scouting's final ranking of International skaters for the 2019 NHL Draft, to be held at Rogers Arena in Vancouver on June 21-22.
Central Scouting revealed its final list of the top International skaters and goaltenders, and top North American skaters and goaltenders, on Monday. Center Jack Hughes of USA Hockey's National Team Development Program Under-18 team, is No. 1 on the final list of North American skaters.
The New Jersey Devils hold the No. 1 pick in the draft after winning the NHL Draft Lottery on April 9. The New York Rangers have the No. 2 pick, and the Chicago Blackhawks are at No. 3.
[RANKINGS: North American Skaters | North American Goalies | International Skaters | International Goalies]
Kakko (6-foot-2, 194 pounds), a left-handed shot, could become the first Finland-born player chosen 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," said Goran Stubb, NHL director of European Scouting. "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 18-year-old scored 22 goals in 45 games, a record for a first-time draft-eligible player in Liiga, one more than the 21 Aleksander Barkov had for Tappara in 53 games in 2012-13. His 38 points are third on the single-season list of players 18 and under, behind Barkov (48, 2012-13) and Mikael Granlund (40 points, 2009-10).
He 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 United States. He finished the tournament with five points (two goals, three assists) in seven games.
Kakko is confident his season, plus his performance at the World Juniors, should earn him consideration for the No. 1 pick of the draft.
"Of course I could have played even better, at least that's how I felt after some games," Kakko said. "I had all the tools to play better. But if you win gold at the World Juniors, every player on the team can be satisfied. Being a member of a winning team and in a big role, I think that speaks for me."
Kakko is expected to play for Finland in the 2019 IIHF World Championship in Slovakia from May 10-26. The NHL Scouting Combine runs May 27-June 1 in Buffalo.
Rounding out the top five among International skaters are No. 2 right wing Vasily Podkolzin (6-1, 190) of Neva St. Petersburg in Russia's second division; No. 3 defenseman Victor Soderstrom (5-11, 179) of Brynas in the Swedish Hockey League; No. 4 defenseman Ville Heinola (5-11, 178) of Lukko in Liiga; No. 5 defenseman Philip Broberg (6-3, 199) of AIK in Sweden's second division.
Podkolzin, 17, is a left-hand shot who had 11 points (eight goals, three assists) in five games for Russia at the Hlinka Gretzky Cup in August, and eight points (three goals, five assists) in six games for the Under-19 team in the World Junior A Challenge in December. He played a limited role for Russia and had three assists in seven games to help his team win the bronze medal at the 2019 WJC.
"Vasili has it all: skating, shot, playmaking, speed and attitude," Stubb said. "He plays with a lot of intensity and is a smart two-way player. He has all the tools necessary to become a star and will be a key forward for Russia at the IIHF World Under-18 Championship." The World U-18 tournament starts Thursday and runs through April 28 in Sweden.
Soderstrom, 18, was No. 5 on Central Scouting's midterm list after he had eight points (one goal, seven assists) in 14 games to begin the season on Brynas' team in Sweden's junior league. The right-shot defenseman was promoted to the SHL and had seven points (four goals, three assists) in 44 games. Soderstrom is creative, mobile and a good puck-handler, capable of joining the rush and contributing offensively.
Heinola, 18, is a left-shot defenseman who had 14 points (two goals, 12 assists) for Lukko in 34 regular-season games, and four points (one goal, three assist) in seven playoff games. He sustained a knee injury playing for Finland against Canada in the quarterfinals of the 2019 WJC but returned to Lukko's lineup in February and received big minutes in a key role down the stretch.
Broberg, 17, had nine points (two goals, seven assists) in 41 games for AIK in Allsvenskan in Sweden's second division. An excellent skater with good size, Broberg "controls the game in all zones," according to Stubb.
Pyotr Kochetkov (6-3, 205) of Ryazan in Russia's second division, is No. 1 on Central Scouting's final list of International goalies.
The 19-year-old had a 2.13 goals-against average and .930 save percentage in 18 games, and also had a 1.45 GAA and .953 save percentage in five games to help Russia finish third at the 2019 WJC. Kochetkov also impressed by going 3-0-0 with a 0.67 GAA, .978 save percentage and one shutout in three games for Russia during the 2018 Canada Russia Series.
"He's strong on his skates with good balance and agility," Stubb said. "He's got good foot and pad quickness and plays a good positional game."