I May Be In The Minority . . . But I Believe That Kaapo Kakko Could Be Selected 1st Overall in 2019

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  1. Blade Paradigm Registered User

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    Update: This is an updated version of this OP, circa March 17, 2019. It includes a 14-minute highlight reel from his 2018-19 Liiga season featuring over 60 plays, including all of his goals and assists. Here is an archived version of this thread with the last update being in mid-October: I May Be In The Minority . . . But I Believe That Kaapo Kakko Could Be Selected 1st Overall in 2019

    After Rasmus Dahlin went all season last year as the consensus first-overall 2018 NHL Draft choice, it is quite obvious that sometimes players are too far ahead of their peers to be caught. For a while, it seemed that Jack Hughes would be a similarly advanced player whose status as his year's first-overall pick would be unchallenged.

    However, having studied many of the forwards touted as current first-round selections, I have come to the conclusion that Jack Hughes isn't that far ahead of the couple of players in the next-highest tier and that the 6'1'' 180 lbs Finnish forward, Kaapo Kakko of Liiga's TPS Turku, has great potential to eclipse Hughes. Liiga is the Finnish Elite League, the highest level of professional men's hockey in Finland. Kakko plays on TPS' first line, a mighty task for a 17-year-old.

    Kaapo Kakko is a European-style power playmaker whose combination of elusiveness, puck skills, and puck protection abilities make him a phenom worth paying close attention to. His puck skills are among the very best of the 2019 draft class, but even more importantly, his hockey IQ is incredibly high -- his patience and creativity with the puck and on his skates, and his smart, aggressive positioning on the forecheck allow him to be a constant offensive threat and a reliable defensive player. He may not overwhelm the opposition with brute north-south strength, speed or physicality, but has the size, balance, agility, and puck skills to protect the puck and maneuver with it in tight spaces -- a graceful combination of finesse, mobility, and strength. Kakko is very agile and fluid on his skates, and is an east-west player who can pivot back-and-forth very quickly along the boards, shield the puck with his body, and rag the puck around; he is a puck hound with the mobility to cover quite a bit of ground and forecheck very effectively. He has a great, albeit underutilized release, has quick hands and excellent stick handling ability, sees the ice very well, and can change directions quickly to take the puck into the middle to score. He has the ability to fake one way then swivel in another direction seamlessly, making him very difficult to contain. He's also a great playmaker who makes crisp passes and makes difficult passes look easy. He's powerful, elusive, and intelligent. One might describe him as an agile power winger and a puck magnet.

    Updated annotation (March 17, 2019): Here is a 14-minute highlight reel featuring 60+ plays from Kakko's 2018-19 Liiga season including all of his goals and assists:



    Original post continued:

    Having watched both Jack Hughes and Kakko quite closely and now comparing their development, tendencies, strengths, deficiencies, and styles of play, I have found Kakko to be the more appealing prospect of the two. This is solidified by Kakko's fiery start to his 2018-19 campaign on TPS' top line. He has played in several Champions Hockey League against teams from other European adult leagues, and has been one of TPS' top players every single game, dominating at times. He plays on their first line, and averages 18 minutes per game. For a 17-year-old to lead a Finnish Elite League team on the ice is an outstanding achievement.

    Updated annotation (March 17, 2019): He finished his draft season in Liiga with 22 goals, 38 points in 45 games. This is a points-per-game average of 0.84. He also broke the record for most goals scored by a U18 player in a Liiga season previously held by Alexander Barkov (21 goals).

    Original post continued:

    Hughes and Kakko separate themselves from the rest of the pack because of their combination of high hockey IQ, ability to always involve themselves in the play, ability to anticipate plays well, as well as their elite stickhandling abilities, and excellent skating. No other player besides these two has such an ideal package of talents and abilities to elevate them into this very exclusive category in 2019. However, while I like both players very much, Hughes possesses some deficiencies that I do not see in Kakko's game.

    Although Jack Hughes is a superbly talented stick handler and a very shifty skater, I find that he tries to avoid contact whenever he carries the puck; when he skates and dekes around opposing players, he isn't pushing his way past them so much as he is trying to squeeze his body around them. There is a difference between the two, as one requires precision and no obstacles to slow one down; the other -- active, powerful maneuvering -- is to be elusive, but to be able to push past obstacles. Both players can cut around opponents and drive to the net, but Kakko has a much more powerful frame. Kakko has gained some speed this year, and is impressively agile on his skates. As a stick handler, Hughes is very poised and is always in control, but he is physically weaker on the puck than Kakko; whenever he is clipped by an opposing body, the puck starts to get away from him. Kakko, like Hughes, possesses quick hands, but controls the puck better in traffic, especially along the boards. This is aggressive maneuvering, not passive.

    Hughes is a pass-first playmaker with a shot that lacks power. Like his brother's shot, Jack's shot might be his worst attribute. Kakko, on the other hand, has already exhibited one of the better wrist shots of his draft class, but is also an excellent playmaker.

    Both players are agile, but Kakko benefits greatly from his puck protection skills along the boards to complement his shiftiness and make him extremely difficult to separate from the puck. Hughes does not possess particularly strong puck protection skills, despite his ability to elude opponents in close quarters.

    In terms of defensive play, I consider Hughes' game to be the worst of my group of elite players. While Kakko, Turcottte, and Podkolzin are all very responsible in the defensive end, Hughes is inattentive in the defensive end and sometimes doesn't do enough to help prevent the opposition from pressuring his team. This can cause trouble.

    Hughes is a very slick player. Compared to Kakko, who thrives in all areas of the ice and dominates possession, however, Hughes plays a softer game with feebler qualities. He is not quite as complete a player as Kakko is, nor is he starting to look that far ahead of Kakko offensively. Kaapo Kakko has had an excellent start to the 2018-19 season in the Finnish Elite League against adult players. The highest age group that Hughes has ever played against was at the World Junior Summer Showcase, where he looked decent.

    When both players are of similar hockey IQ and puck skills, I prefer players who can overwhelm the opposition with at least some degree of strength and out-muscle them in one-on-one situations. Hughes does not possess that ability. Yes, he can be elusive, but he does not always succeed in one-on-one situations either; at the NHL level, even Connor McDavid, who could elude players without ever being touched at lower levels, must push through obstacles frequently to reach his destination. At the NHL level, defensive positioning is so much more precise than at the junior level; defenders don't often give the puck carrier much space.

    I don't know if Hughes will ever be able to develop the strength to beat defenders with a combination of force and finesse. He has a small frame, and his brother's height is evidence that he might not grow too much more either.

    He may be a great skater, but I also disagree with the opinion that he is a top-level skater in the NHL. Connor McDavid has the best acceleration in the NHL and excellent top speed. Jack's own brother Quinn skates better than he does, with a more explosive first step and much smoother edgework. Jack has small, quick bursts and great puck control while he is moving, but I don't think his skating is in the same category as the most elite skaters in the NHL.

    I see some people call Jack Hughes the next Patrick Kane, but I do not agree with this notion. Kane is an excellent shooter with a powerful one-timer and tremendous wrist shot. Kane is a top-notch goal scorer. Hughes' shooting skills are average. Kane is, frankly, more mobile a skater than Hughes, with better edge work. Hughes is an agile skater, but not on that same elite level. Hughes has little bursts of speed to help bring him around defenders, but he doesn't have the effortless acceleration or sustained use of his edges to zip around the offensive zone the way that Kane does. He also doesn't hound the puck the way that Kane does, instead opting to distribute it at a much more frequent rate. Kane loves to hold on and make things happen independently.

    A few have compared Hughes to McDavid. I think they play similar east-west games, frankly. However, McDavid has so many more tools than Hughes. If you were to take away some of the acceleration and top speed -- thus neutering his north-south game--, make McDavid three inches and thirty pounds smaller, and also take a little bit of zip off of his shot, you might get something similar to Jack.

    McDavid is better defensively than Jack Hughes and has a more much complete skill set. Hughes has some of those skills, but lacks others -- especially the speed that make McDavid so special.

    Not much separates the stick handling abilities of Jack Hughes and Kaapo Kakko; the marginal difference to me does not outweigh the much more complete skill set that Kakko offers. In terms of skating, Hughes is an agile skater, but he is not powerful nor would his skating belong in the top-tier of the NHL. Kakko provides such a mature, well-rounded, dynamic offensive game with great playmaking elements, puck protection elements, and forechecking elements.

    Like Hughes, Kakko can create chances in close quarters and flex his creativity to generate chances from out of nowhere. His defensive game is better, his shot is much better, and he plays a more powerful game.

    With regards to the positions they play, here has been some debate as to the suitability of Jack Hughes as an NHL center.

    The type of game that Hughes plays -- quick off the rush, with puck transitional skills through the neutral zone, a finesse-based, offense-first mentality and a lack of strength-based qualities -- is much more of a playmaking winger's game than that of a high-end center. Hughes is also very small for a first-line center; centers who are 5'10'' and shorter tend to compensate for their height with a heavy, strong frame. Height is less important than weight, but height is a factor along with frame type in determining the amount of weight that a player can carry before heaviness becomes detrimental. Hughes is short with a small frame -- rare for a successful NHL center. The fact that he also isn't very good defensively suggests that he might end up as a winger in the NHL.

    On the other hand, we have a small sample size of Kakko's suitability as a center, but Team Finland tried him successfully at center at the World Junior Summer Showcase. His complete game could make him a potential candidate to try at center in the future. Craig Button was convinced enough to mention in his latest Craig's List publication that Kakko can play either wing or center and possesses versatility as a forward. I feel that Craig doesn't view these players enough to assess all of them with great confidence, but he definitely saw Kakko at the Summer Showcase.

    The first player on my list who is certain to be a top-line center is 5'11'' 180 lbs playmaker Alex Turcotte; he is at #3 on my list. He is an agile, powerful skater with excellent stick handling abilities, great hockey IQ, a tenacious forechecking game, and reliable defensive abilities. Another player I see at the top of many rankings is Alex Newhook, who I have flagged as a player with great tools but average hockey IQ -- not a player worthy of a top-five selection. You may also hear about Russian winger Vasili Podkolzin as a top-five selection, who has great potential as a high-IQ goal scorer. However, if one is looking to select the best player available, I believe the correct choice would be Kaapo Kakko.

    A good season in Liiga is all that I believe is necessary for Kakko to convince stat watchers. Based on his role with TPS Turku right out of the gate this season, he is poised to have a standout year.

    The NHL team I support drafted Quinn Hughes. The 2019 NHL Draft will be hosted in my city. There will be pressure for the Vancouver Canucks to select Jack if they are in a situation to select him. It seems like a storybook scenario. I am not Finnish, so I have no additional interest in Finnish prospects than those from other nations. In spite of all this, from all of my personal viewings, I can't help but feel that Kaapo Kakko would be the better selection if my team had the opportunity to select either player.

    If Kakko continues to have success this season in Liiga, I think there could be a shift in the consensus opinion about this topic by the 2019 midterm rankings.

    Pay close attention to Kaapo Kakko. His name might be the first you'll hear at the 2019 NHL Draft in Vancouver.

    UPDATE: October 16, 2018.

    Kaapo Kakko is dominating Liiga as a 17-year-old player with 9 points in 12 games against Finland's top professional players. Jack Hughes, meanwhile, has scored 11 points in 8 games with the USNTDP U18 team so far this season.

    Kakko currently has a 55.0% Corsi rating, ranked third among forwards and fourth overall on TPS Turku.

    Scouts are now considering Kakko to be rapidly closing in on Hughes in the rankings. Future Considerations' Dennis Schellenberg and Toni Rajamaki, Larry Fisher of The Hockey Writers, and numerous others have all written about Kakko's stellar play so far in Liiga.
    UPDATE: March 17 2019.

    As of March 2019, Kaapo Kakko is ranked #1 on Sportsnet's 2019 NHL Draft Rankings:

    Sportsnet’s 2019 NHL Draft Prospect Rankings: March - Sportsnet.ca
     
    Last edited: Mar 17, 2019
  2. APVJ Registered User

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    Why would you pass Patrick Kane 2.0?
     
  3. greasysnapper Registered User

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    He could. But he'd have to close the gap on not just Hughes but a number of players.

    I personally have Hughes, Cozens, Krebs, and Pod all ahead of him. I think Dach for example is closer to overtaking Kakko than Kakko is to overtaking Hughes. It's not to say Kakko is a bad prospect, I just think the 2019 draft is shaping up to be something magical and there are a lot of great players, especially from the WHL.
     
  4. BruinsBtn Registered User

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    Interesting. Nice post
     
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  5. 1OApick Registered User

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    Kakko is amazing player. WJC will be important if he wants to overtake Hughes. But it is not stretch to take Kakko first.
     
  6. Minnesnota Registered User

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    Patrick Kane 2.0 but plays Center > Kakko. Sorry.

    You're on the Kakko hype train and you're blindly ignoring why Hughes has been the consensus #1 since before Matthews was drafted. Hughes will go #1 again, just accept it and move on. I'm sure Kakko will be a fine player.
     
  7. kelsier Registered User

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    Great read. You obviously put a lot of time and effort to it. And no, you're not alone in the minority.
    Kakko is already ahead in the starting positions heading into his draft year when compared to Barkov and Laine and getting the early recognition which I don't think either one of the two really had at the same point in time. More importantly he's obviously in a situation where his team really expects great results from the get go, while Kakko seems to have earned his position already. According to FEL stats Laine averaged 17:16 minutes per game in his draft year but I couldn't find Barkov's respective aTOI from the site. Laine was never even in the first line and Barkov was also centering second line (though Tappara run more like a 1a/1b type of setup at the time). Kakko is very likely to play more hockey and with better players. If he can set a new benchmark for draft eligible NHL prospects and outscore Barkov in the regular season, that would be extremely difficult to overlook and would cause some headache for the scouts no doubts, especially if Hughes continues to thrive. I think Kaapo has the goods for that (of which you pretty accurately pointed out) but it's not going to be easy.

    Based on the U18 WJHC I didn't think there was any tiers separating Kakko and Hughes, both (while being different type of forwards) were the corner stones of their teams' offensives. Hughes is heck of a prospect and will be heck of a player, but I do hope he gets a run for his money. If there's going to be a showdown I'd be betting on these two kids. Fingers crossed!
     
  8. Oscar Lindberg Registered User

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    Very good read here. A lot of great insight on these prospects.

    The conversation is very similar to the 'Who should go first overall in 2016, Matthews or Laine?"

    The main difference here is I think there is a group of guys who could be right there with Kakko going forward as we move towards next summer. Turcotte/Newhook/etc are right there I think.

    I think Kakko is going to be great, but I would be surprised if Hughes gets upset. If anything, It's probably more likely that one of the centers overtakes Hughes, but even then it's a slim chance.
     
  9. jj cale Registered User

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    Good read, don't know if he or anyone else can up seat Hughes but Finland sure is putting out a lot of top end prospects these days, I can't ever remember a run like this from them, they are coming in each year now.

    A best on best triumph is coming in the not too distant future, bank on it folks.
     
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  10. Joe Hallenback Moderator

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    I appreciate your write up and views but I can't see anyone knocking Hughes off the top. He is just too good and too skilled as a center to not be number 1. I thought maybe one of the big Canadian centers could get there but after the Hlinka and WJ showcase I don't think that is going to happen.

    Granted I haven't seen Kakko that much but I can't see it happening
     
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  11. Kaako Kappo Kaako Kappo

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    Hughes will be #1. Getting #1C in the NHL is almost impossible.
     
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  12. BleedWell Registered User

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    Great post. I also think that Kakko can atleast challenge Hughes for the number one spot.
    Is it really so that Kakko is the only player in the top-10 or so next summer's draft who is playing with men this season?
     
  13. Hokinaittii Registered User

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    Good post with actually explaining the reasons why Kakko could challenge him.

    I feel like this draft will be just as close as it was with Laine and Matthews in 2016 where Matthews was leading all the time but Laine's superior season made it closer than anyone could predict before the season. Hughes is obviously the front runner right now but if Kakko is able to improve as much as he did last year during the season, he is going to give Hughes a great run.
     
  14. Brock Radunske 안양종합운동장 빙상장

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    While I agree that Laine's amazing season prevented it from being unanimous that Matthews was going #1, I don't think it was ever really close.
     
  15. Hokinaittii Registered User

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    I guess it wasn't close with Toronto having the pick since they didn't have #1 center but maybe other teams with great center depth already would have looked the other way since it's not often you get a chance to draft a potential best goalscorer of the next decade.

    But let's not turn this into Laine and Matthews discussion. :thumbu:
     
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  16. Rabid Ranger 2 is better than one

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    "For a while, it seemed that Jack Hughes would be a similarly advanced player whose status as his year's first-overall pick would be unchallenged."

    What's changed? I don't see very much traction that Hughes is being challenged. I appreciate the work put into this, but not a fan of some of the arguments. For instance, you say that Hughes seeks to avoid contact but isn't more appropriate to say he's elusive and is very hard to hit?
     
  17. Rabid Ranger 2 is better than one

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    How many NHL teams do you think will turn down the opportunity to draft a stud #1 center?
     
  18. UNITEDSTATESOFHOCKEY Registered User

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    I'm not reading all that but yes you are very much in the minority! and No way!
     
  19. Captain Clutch Registered User

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    cray cray
     
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  20. teravaineSAROS Registered User

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  21. Hokinaittii Registered User

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    What stopped Caps from drafting Malkin over Ovechkin if they knew they'd be losing on #1 center?

    I don't see teams really having problems with turning down on #1 center if they feel like they will fill their biggest need and at the same get just as good player in return.
     
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  22. BB88 Registered User

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    Laine& Matthews both played in pro leagues, this season only Kakko plays, Kakko is also clearly bigger than Hughes vs Laine/Matthews being similar size, and Kakko is more complete player, who though lacks that Laine shot.

    With that said Hughes will most likely go 1st.
     
  23. tony d Registered User

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    Many thanks for sharing this. Kakko seems to be getting a lot of buzz for the 2019 draft. Still Hughes is Hughes and unless he has a terrible season he's going #1 in 2019.
     
  24. OldScool Registered User

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    Nothing wrong with differing opinions and love the info to back up your opinion. I think Hughes by a landslide but who knows...I still remembering thinking Johnny Gaudreau would never be good at the NHL level because he was too small.....so I got that going for me.
     
  25. Pierce Hawthorne Formerly Avsare1

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    Right now? It's most certainly a massive stretch.


    And that's coming from a huge Kakko fan here. He's simply not on the level of what Hughes is.
     
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