Kaapo Kakko is already relishing the possibility of playing on the same line as Artemi Panarin with the New York Rangers.
Selected by New York with the No. 2 pick in the 2019 NHL Draft, Kakko (6-foot-3, 195 pounds), a left-handed shooting right wing, could end up playing on a line with Panarin and center Mika Zibanejad. The Rangers signed Panarin to a seven-year contract July 1; the 27-year-old led the Columbus Blue Jackets with 87 points (28 goals, 59 assists) in 79 games last season. New York also acquired defenseman Jacob Trouba in a trade from the Winnipeg Jets on June 17.
"We've made great additions and got great players," Kakko said Friday at the Finnish Alumni All-Star Game in Lahti, Finland. "I've watched [Panarin's] games and highlights. Great player, nice to have him. I think we would be good together. I believe anyone would fit with such a great player. I haven't thought about lines though."
Video: Kaapo Kakko ranks No. 2 on the Top Prospects List
Kakko said he's confident the skills he honed playing for TPS of Liiga, the top professional league in Finland, have him prepared for the NHL. He scored 22 goals in 45 games, setting a record for under-18 players; center Aleksander Barkov (Florida Panthers) had 21 goals for Tappara in 2012-13. Kakko's 38 points are third most in a single season among 18-and-under Liiga players, behind Barkov, who had 48 in 2012-13, and Mikael Granlund (Nashville Predators), who had 40 in 2009-10 with HIFK. Kakko also led Finland with six goals in 10 games to help it win the 2019 IIHF World Championship.
"I think I have to continue from where I left in the spring," Kakko said. "[The] Rangers drafted me because they like my game. I try to play with my own strengths and I believe it will open a spot in NHL."
If it does, Kakko could make his debut when the Rangers open the regular season against the Jets on Oct. 3 at Madison Square Garden.
"It would be great; I hope to play in that game," Kakko said. "Hopefully everything gets going right from the start."