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Kaapo Kakko's strong start at the Worlds doesn't change anything

May 12, 2019, 11:32 AM ET [56 Comments]
Todd Cordell
New Jersey Devils Blogger • RSSArchiveCONTACT
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It's been exactly one (1) day since I last wrote about Jack Hughes and Kaapo Kakko. In that time, the latter followed up a strong opening day performance with a hat trick against Slovakia, which has only increased the amount of people questioning whether Hughes should be the 1st overall pick.

I have some thoughts on that, and general observations of what I've seen (and tracked) from the two thus far:

• Kakko has been great through two games. He has done everything you could have hoped and more. Beyond strong defensive work, and board play, Kakko has flashed a ton of skill and scored five goals – in a variety of ways, no less – while leading the charge for Finland's attack.

Even so, my stance on Hughes vs Kakko hasn't changed – it's still Hughes, although I will continue to point out the gap isn't large – and I don't think yours should have either.

For one, he has scored a pair of empty-net goals. Three goals (and points) through two games is great, especially from such a young player, but it doesn't pop nearly as much as five.

Yes, it's encouraging the coaching staff trusts him defending leads late in games. They should. But it's worth pointing out Finland doesn't have an NHL forward on their roster. It's not like it is remotely bold to have him out there.

It's also worth noting he is shooting 41.6% overall, and 30% when a goaltender is between the pipes. For perspective of how wild that is, Kakko shot 9.6% in Finland this season.

I'm not changing my stance because Kakko shot nearly 42% for a couple of days.

• Though Kakko is getting hype in large part due to his scoring, I'd be ignorant not to praise him for some of the other things he is bringing to the table – and there's a lot. In his debut game against Canada, Kakko held his head above water in terms of possession (52 CF%) despite playing a decent chunk of his shifts against a line featuring Mark Stone and Jonathan Marchessault. That's impressive. Kakko also contributed to nearly 40% of Finland's on-ice attempts (that numbers was ~42% in games I tracked with TPS Turku) and drew a couple penalties.

The one blemish, if you will, was his neutral zone play. He had three carry-ins, compared to five dump-ins. He doesn't have the top speed to back defenders right off and, at times, that leads to throwing the puck away, which you don't always get back.

• I know Hughes didn't find the scoresheet against Slovakia, but he did everything else. USA dominated the shot share (59.25 CF%) with Hughes on the ice. Hughes recorded six shot contributions and was a big-time driver through the neutral zone, successfully gaining the line with possession seven times (five carry-ins, two pass-ins, one dump-in). That's one area of the game Hughes has consistently out-performed Kakko, and I expect that to be the case in the NHL.

• It's important to keep things in perspective when comparing Hughes and Kakko this tournament. Hughes isn't as physically mature, has had little down time because he went to the U18s, and he plays a lesser role on USA as a result of the all talent they brought over. I mean, Finland is currently rostering zero (0) NHL forwards. Kakko will get more minutes, and play in all situations, which increases the chances of him producing more.

Note: I will be tracking as many WHC games as possible for both Hughes and Kakko, and sharing my findings (and thoughts) with you all every step of the way.

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