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Kakko plans to help Rangers right away after being picked second in Draft

Forward looks to fulfill NHL dream next season

by Dan Rosen @drosennhl / NHL.com Senior Writer

VANCOUVER -- Kaapo Kakko had a dream come true at Rogers Arena on Friday when the New York Rangers made him the No. 2 pick in the 2019 NHL Draft.

"The next [dream] is to play in the NHL," Kakko said.

The 18-year-old right wing from Turku, Finland thinks it can happen as soon as next season. 

"It's my plan," Kakko said.

 

[RELATED: 2019 NHL Draft first-round results, analysis | Complete NHL Draft coverage]

 

The Rangers are excited for it to happen after using the highest selection they've had in a draft since the NHL expanded to 12 teams for the 1967-68 season to select Kakko (6-foot-2, 194 pounds), who was No. 1 in NHL Central Scouting's ranking of International skaters all season.

"I think the support from our fans in New York is going to be extraordinary and I think that's going to be a pushing factor to see a young man thrive in that marketplace," Rangers president John Davidson said. "If you come in there and you can play the way we think he can play it's going to be fantastic, people are going to really appreciate it. Don't forget, he's young. Let's not jump ahead of ourselves too far. Let's let things fall into place. But I'm trying to talk myself into that also."

Kakko played this season for TPS in Liiga, Finland's top professional league, and scored 38 points, including a team-high 22 goals, in 45 games despite being the youngest player on the roster. 

Video: Rangers draft F Kaapo Kakko No. 2

He broke Florida Panthers center Aleksander Barkov's Liiga record for most goals in a season by a first-time draft-eligible player. Barkov scored 21 goals in 53 games for Tappara in 2012-13.

"The thing I love about Kakko is he's a guy who can score goals and he's a playmaker as well," Rangers coach David Quinn said. "He's a guy who played center for a long time until he was 15 or 16, so he does have that playmaking ability and boy there is an awful lot of room for physical growth from him. As big and strong as he is, you look at him, boy in three or four years when he's in his early 20s he's going to be a much bigger guy."

Quinn said he doesn't want to put any extra pressure on Kakko. However, he said he's been envisioning Kakko playing on the right side of center Mika Zibanejad on the Rangers' top line.

"I've looked at that without question," Quinn said. "Mika said he's going to start learning Finnish. He does speak Finnish, but he's going to brush up on his Finnish."

The Rangers are particularly impressed with Kakko's ability to be dangerous in tight situations down low and coming off the wall with the puck.

"He creates space for himself with his body," Rangers general manager Jeff Gorton said. "He's able to use his body to shield people and find himself with a little extra time that other guys aren't able to do. He can make plays really quickly to identify where they are, and he's a threat to score from far out, which is unique in this day and age. 

"In the corners, I think he likes contact. Once you hit him he rolls off you and he feels like he has you and has you beat with a step to the net."

Video: Kakko on joining Rangers after being No. 2 selection

Kakko said he was nervous before the draft even though he knew he'd be going either No. 1 to the New Jersey Devils or No. 2 to the Rangers. 

The Devils chose center Jack Hughes. Kakko said he was disappointed because he wanted to go No. 1.

"It was my dream to be No. 1, but of course second is also good," he said. "I'm happy."

Kakko should have ample opportunity to prove the Devils wrong for passing on him since they are a Metropolitan Division rival of the Rangers and play across the Hudson River from New York in Newark, N.J. 

Kakko even laughed and said yes when someone asked him if he will try to get back at them for picking Hughes over him.

"Rivalries across the river, I mean it's going to be talked about for a long, long, long time," Davidson said. "I think that that is just the greatest. I think it's fantastic. I think that's what hockey needs."

First, Kakko has to get to New York City for the first time in his life. 

He will be there for the Rangers' prospect development camp, which starts Monday in Stamford, Connecticut. The prospects are tentatively scheduled to visit Madison Square Garden on Wednesday.

"I think it's a little bit bigger than Turku," a smiling Kakko said of New York City. 

Kakko has been studying up on the Rangers. He said he already knows goalie Alexandar Georgiev, who played for TPS from 2014-17.

"I hope I can get the team to the playoffs someday," Kakko said.

Someday might come soon if Kakko can quickly deliver on his potential.

"I would love to see him be a cornerstone for us," Davidson said. "I don't want to sit here and say he's got to be the best we've ever had in New York in the history of the Rangers. You don't do that to young people. He's going to show his way. He's going to be a really, really good player."

 

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