NHL.com examines how right wing Kaapo Kakko can make an immediate impact for the New York Rangers and projects his fantasy hockey value for 2019-20. For more fantasy coverage, visit NHL.com/Fantasy.
Right wing Kaapo Kakko, drafted by the New York Rangers with the No. 2 pick in the 2019 NHL Draft on Friday, brings a goal-scoring presence to their top-six forward group. He has elite playmaking ability and an accurate shot that should make him fantasy-relevant in his rookie season.
The 6-foot-2, 194-pound forward scored 22 goals in 45 games this season for HC TPS in Liiga, the top men's professional hockey league in Finland, setting a record for under-18 players; center Aleksander Barkov (Florida Panthers) had 21 goals for Tappara in 2012-13.
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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. Kakko also led Finland with six goals in 10 games at the 2019 IIHF World Championship, helping his country win the gold medal.
"It's my plan and my goal to play in NHL next year," Kakko said. "I need more strength, I need to get to the gym, and then I'm ready."
Kakko could crack the Rangers top six, potentially bringing exposure to standout center Mika Zibanejad, who had a NHL career-high 74 points (30 goals, 44 assists) in 82 games on the top line. The best-case scenario for prospective fantasy owners is Kakko skating on a line with Zibanejad and left wing Chris Kreider, who is entering a contract year (potential 2020 unrestricted free agent). Regardless of even-strength linemates, Kakko could also play on the Rangers' top power-play unit, which should feature Zibanejad, Kreider, right wing Pavel Buchnevich and either defenseman Jacob Trouba, who was acquired from the Winnipeg Jets on Monday, or Kevin Shattenkirk.
Kakko would gain significant value if the Rangers pursue any high-profile skaters in free agency (e.g. Artemi Panarin, Matt Duchene), which would improve their power play (19.4 percent this season; 19th in NHL). It's worth noting young forwards Filip Chytil, Lias Andersson and Russian wing prospect Vitali Kravtsov could be factored into New York's top nine and power-play mix next season. Defenseman Tony DeAngelo, 23, also showed promise last season with 30 points (four goals, 26 assists), 10 on the power play, in 61 games, which translates to 40 points over a full season.
Video: Analyzing how Kakko can contribute in NHL immediately
The Rangers still have questions surrounding the goalie position with starter Henrik Lundqvist, 37, having finished his third straight season with a .915 save percentage or worse (.907) and backup Alexandar Georgiev, who had a .914 SV% in 33 games. Lundqvist is a fantasy bounce-back candidate, and Georgiev is a potential deep sleeper if he continues to earn more playing time. The additions of Trouba and Kakko this offseason have significantly improved the Rangers' team fantasy outlook for next season.
It took Barkov two seasons to become fantasy-relevant, but he had to adjust to becoming a two-way center and didn't crack the top six until his second NHL season. Right wing Patrik Laine is a better comparison to Kakko in terms of position and potential fantasy production as a rookie. Laine had 33 points (17 goals, 16 assists) in 46 games for Tappara of Liiga in his draft year and then 64 points (36 goals, 28 assists) in 73 games in his rookie season for the Jets. Laine was immediately given a top-six role with valuable forwards Mark Scheifele and Nikolaj Ehlers with the Jets as a rookie.
If Kakko captures a top-line role with Zibanejad, his ceiling could be as high as Laine's rookie season. Kakko's rookie impact could still be affected by any trades or signings the Rangers make this offseason, but fantasy owners should expect him to become a difference-maker upon arrival and worth drafting around the top 100 overall.
The past four No. 2 picks, wing Andrei Svechnikov (2018), center Nolan Patrick (2017), Laine (2016) and center Jack Eichel (2015), were full-time NHL players the season after being drafted. Eichel and Laine were fantasy-relevant.
Projection: 79 games, 33 goals, 27 assists, 60 points, 15 PPP*
Draft range in 12-team fantasy league: Rounds 9 or 10 (picks 97-120)
*This projection will be updated with any additional trades or signings the Rangers make this offseason.
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