Kaapo Kakko is ready to push.
There is widespread consensus within the scouting community that Jack Hughes is the early, clear frontrunner to be the No. 1 pick in the 2019 NHL Draft, but the supremely talented Finnish winger is poised to ensure that whatever team ends up holding that top pick will have a difficult decision.
After all, any time a prospect is scoring at a pace that surpasses what elite NHLers such as Aleksander Barkov and Patrik Laine did in the same league at the same age, it’s impossible not take close notice.
Kakko’s start to the 2018-19 season in Liiga, Finland’s top professional league, has been stellar to say the least, with seven points in his first eight games. Should he continue that near point-per-game pace throughout the season, he would eclipse what Barkov (48 points in 53 games) and Laine (33 points in 46 games) did in their draft seasons.
“Kakko has been outstanding in nearly every game I’ve seen him in,” said Dennis Schellenberg, Future Considerations’ head of European scouting. “Great vision and very good in tight spaces. An overall powerful skater with great top speed. Kakko combines skill, strength and hockey sense, making him another top prospect out of Finland.”
Maintaining that scoring pace throughout the whole season will be no small feat, but with his impressive combination of maturity, hockey IQ and a full package of physical tools, there are no signs that the 6-foot-1 forward, who came in at No. 3 in Future Considerations’ preliminary ranking for the 2019 draft, will be slowing down any time soon.
“Kakko’s start to the season has been quite amazing since he has been one of the best players in the whole league,” said Finland-based Future Considerations scout Toni Rajamäki. “And that’s quite impressive for a guy this age.”
Kakko doesn’t turn 18 until mid-February.
“He has tremendous vision and great puck skills,” Rajamäki said. “He likes to use his size and he can be a really effective player in the corners since he handles the puck well in small places and knows how to protect it.”
The Liiga isn’t the only place Kakko has excelled.
He scored 10 points in seven games at the 2018 IIHF World Under-18 Championship back in April, playing a key role in helping Finland win gold. Despite being a year younger than most of the competition, Kakko was one of the tournament’s best players.
While Hughes is still the undisputed jewel of the 2019 class, does Kakko have the potential to unseat him from that perch?
Some of those who’ve watched him the closest believe so.
“If he’s going to continue to play in this fashion for the rest of the season, don’t be surprised if his name pops up in the first overall discussion,” Schellenberg said.
And Schellenberg isn’t alone.
Kakko is set to add some attention to the top of the 2019 draft class.
“I think he can challenge Jack Hughes in the fight for the first spot,” Rajamäki added.