The New York Rangers have agreed to terms with Kaapo Kakko on his three-year entry-level contract, getting a bit of business done before restricted free agents take up the rest of the summer. Kakko’s deal will likely kick in this season as he is expected to play in the NHL, and should contain a huge number of performance bonuses.
Kakko, 18, was the second overall selection in last month’s NHL Entry Draft after an outstanding season in Finland and internationally. The rangy, powerful forward broke Aleksander Barkov’s Liiga record of goals scored in one season by an under-18 player with 22, and won Rookie of the Year. That performance wrapped around an outstanding effort at the World Juniors where he and his Finnish teammates took home the gold medal. Kakko scored the game-winning goal in the final against Team USA and draft rival Jack Hughes.
With some unfinished business after his TPS squad was eliminated from league playoffs, the teenager then suited up for Finland again at the IIHF World Championship where he recorded six goals in 10 games and once again helped Finland capture the gold. Even with nearly unprecedented success in his draft year, he was unable to pass Hughes for the honor to be selected first overall.
The Rangers won’t be complaining, though, as Kakko is exactly the kind of franchise-changing talent that they can put in the middle of their rebuild. The team had already been growing a strong program with recent trades, but have now obviously turned the corner toward competing with the selection of Kakko and signing of Artemi Panarin. The wingers should form the basis of a solid forward core for years to come while other young talents like Filip Chytil, Lias Andersson, Brett Howden and Vitali Kravtsov fill in the rest of their impressive depth chart.
Obviously, there may be growing pains for Kakko in his first season, but after showing he can compete against NHL stars at the international level he should step right into a substantial role with the Rangers in 2019-20.