Kaapo Kakko playing at “another level” as Rangers continue successful run

Kaapo Kakko setting tone in Rangers win streak
New York Rangers’ Jacob Trouba (8) celebrates with teammates after scoring a goal during the first period of an NHL hockey game against the Carolina Hurricanes Tuesday, Jan. 3, 2023, in New York. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)
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Kaapo Kakko hasn’t had the smoothest ride through his first three seasons in the NHL. He’s suffered injuries, he’s been benched in key moments, and shunted aside as the New York Rangers looked to end their rebuild with the emergence of other talented vets. 

Yet while Kakko has struggled to make a name for himself early in his NHL career, his fourth year has kicked off much differently than in previous years. And his play has picked up to the point where even the coaching staff has been impressed. 

“(Kaapo) Kakko has been outstanding. He’s been one of our best players in the last three games.” Rangers head coach Gerard Gallant said after the team’s 5-3 win on Tuesday. “That’s what you’re looking for. Keep playing with confidence, and he’s played great hockey…he’s been a good player all year but I have found the last three games he’s gone to another level.”

The Finnish winger has certainly shown his mark recently. Kakko has tallied three points in his last three games and has made plays that have altered the outcome of some big-time battles.

In Tuesday’s win over Carolina, Kakko started an offensive play that ended up being the game-winning goal for the Rangers. Add in a couple of timely defensive plays and nice offensive rushes and the former second-overall pick that hadn’t produced as much as fans would have hoped is turning it around in a back way in 2022.

“I like to play behind the net. I tried to find someone and found Mika (Zibanejad) on the blue line and ‘Key (K’Andre Miller) was in front of the net, but these are the guys that they have a good team so we just got to get pucks to the net.” Kakko told AMNY after the win. 

Kakko starting an offensive opportunity behind the net hasn’t been the norm for the young winger in recent memory, and while he “likes to stay there sometimes” Kakko’s perfect blend of size and strength has made him difficult to defend anywhere on the ice. 

It’s been a key reason why New York has recorded points in eight of their last 11 contests. 

If the Rangers are to continue their recent stretch of success, it’ll need its blend of young talent to mix well with its veteran savvy. A win like over Carolina, which snapped the Hurricane’s 11-game winning streak does more than just build confidence but shows that the team is good enough to compete at the highest level. And while the team is getting contributions from all over the ice, Kaapo Kakko is the one whose stardom is shining brighter as we enter the new year. 

“I think we’re playing really good right now. Just keep doing those things that we’ve been doing. I think that’s the key.” 

For more on Kaapo Kakko and the New York Rangers, turn to AMNY.com