Kaapo Kakko is expected to play for the New York Rangers in the Stanley Cup Qualifiers, even though the rookie forward is a Type 1 diabetic and more prone to having serious complications if he were to contract the coronavirus.
"He's been tested, he's good. As of right now we look to have him in the lineup," Rangers president John Davidson said in an interview with MSG Networks on the team's website Thursday.
Kakko, the No. 2 pick in the 2019 NHL Draft, has been training in his native Finland. Davidson said the Rangers have been in constant communication with him, especially about his health through the global pandemic.
"We think it's safe as long as he follows the protocol and we all do too," Davidson said. "We understand the whole thing from A to Z. It's been studied by our doctors in many different forms. If there is a change that comes along and they say we don't think he should play, he's not playing. But if they give us the green light and he himself -- it's his decision, remember -- wants to play and he talks to his family, he's playing."
The Rangers (37-28-5, .564 points percentage), the No. 11 seed in the Eastern Conference, will play the No. 6 Carolina Hurricanes (38-25-5, .596) in a best-of-5 series to determine who advances into the Stanley Cup Playoffs as part of the 24-team NHL Return to Play Plan. Training camps for the teams resuming play can open July 10; Phase 3 will occur provided that medical and safety conditions allow, and the NHL and NHL Players' Association have reached an agreement on resuming play. The length of training camp, the start date, and the locations for resumption of play (Phase 4) have not been announced.
Video: LAK@NYR: Kakko finishes slick pass in close
Kakko scored 23 points (10 goals, 13 assists) in 66 games this season. Davidson said getting Kakko into the series against the Hurricanes, provided it is safe for him, is important because of the experience he will gain.
Davidson said Kakko's rookie season was filled with ups and downs.
"Everybody gets excited when you're a No. 1 pick, a No. 2 pick, a No. 3 pick in the NHL," Davidson said. "This league is good. This league is really good. He showed some flashes. He showed areas he has to improve upon. He's a coachable kid [who's] learning. He learned as an 18-year-old in the greatest league as far as hockey goes in the world, and it's hard. I saw a lot of really good things. I saw a lot of things he can improve upon. I think that he knows that. He's going to be a great player, there's no question, but you still have to go through that entire process."