It’s been a rollercoaster ride for NHL rookie Kaapo Kakko so far–his first season with the New York Rangers has featured everything from glorious overtime winners to anonymous nine-minute appearances.
Many an analyst expected the 18-year-old Finn to take the league by storm. It hasn’t happened, yet. Hardly no one, however, questions his hockey sense, determination and potential to be great. Plus, he’s fun to talk to. He tends to say what he thinks and that’s nice for journalists as well as the readers.
I have chatted with Kaapo numerous times, and here are some quotes that stand out…
September 18th: Rangers 3, Devils 4 (preseason)
Kaapo played at Madison Square Garden for the first time. Also the first time he played with the Rangers’ NHL squad.
“The feeling was great! We have great fans. Hockey is always fun, but this was something else. Before the game, I didn’t know much about the atmosphere at the Garden. The goal song, the roar of the crowd… suddenly they started to chant our goalie’s name, too. That didn’t happen back home in Turku. Well, maybe they chanted my name sometimes…”
September 24th: Rangers 3, Islanders 1 (preseason)
During the training camp and his first weeks in New York, Kakko roomed with fellow Finn Tarmo Reunanen (who didn’t make the team). Kaapo said nothing had really surprised him in his new hometown.
“Days are much like the ones back home in Finland. Morning skate, and some free time after that. Get some rest and prepare for the next game. With Tarmo, it’s great to get a chance to speak Finnish. Days roll by more nicely when you don’t have to binge-watch shows by yourself”
October 3rd: Rangers 6, Jets 4
Kaapo Kakko’s NHL debut.
“I will never forget this. This was my first real game and I got a little emotional, too. Quite a show by the fans, they welcomed me nicely. What a way to enter the league. I was a little nervous before the game, but when the puck dropped it was like any other game”
October 29th: Rangers 4, Lightning 1
The goal Kakko scored was a lucky bounce but it doesn’t change the fact he played very well. It was his 10th NHL game.
“Easily one of my best games in the NHL, probably the best. I was a bit worried about the 10-game mark at times—but now I feel good. I understand the organization expects a lot from me. Respectively, I believe in my game”
November 22nd: Rangers 4, Capitals 1
Shoot or pass? Kaapo thinks his choices have been fine.
”Tonight, I delivered a nice pass (to Brendan Lemieux) on a two-on-one, maybe he didn’t expect it. The pass was fairly hard, so that the defenseman wouldn’t catch it. Didn’t work out this time. Anyway, plays like that come and go quickly. You have to shoot or pass. Or just dump it into the corner, like third and fourth-line guys do…”
November 22nd: Rangers 4, Capitals 1
How do you feel about the defensive game of your line?
“I don’t think we spent too much time in our own end. We allowed no goals. As the third line, we have to defend well. The top six spends more time in the offensive zone, and maybe sometimes their defensive play gets a bit overlooked. Our line attacked well and created a few chances as well. But we have to win more faceoffs. I think I play OK without the puck; also in our own end, even though the stats may not always support it. I’m improving, and so is the line”
December 27th: Rangers 5, Hurricanes 3
In a penalty-filled game, Kakko gathered only 11:14 time on ice.
”Games like this are never easy. Often I had to sit and wait for several minutes to get a chance. Hardly the ideal rhythm. I’m not getting big minutes right now but that’s what I’ve deserved”
October 20th: Rangers 2, Canucks 3
This was the biggie. Kaapo’s play had reached a new low and he kept it no secret. My interview was quoted by the likes of ESPN, NHL Network, TSN, USA Today, New York Post, and the outstanding blog Forever Blueshirts.
“Hockey isn’t much fun for me right now. Things haven’t started to roll. Sometimes I feel I could get more ice time and play on the top line. I understand why I haven’t got that chance: my performances haven’t been that good”
“I was a bit frustrated after my second game already. My goal is to play a leading role on the team. I don’t want to hear how young I am or how much time I need to adjust. I want, immediately, to be the player who scores game-winning goals”
In his first 34 games in the NHL, Kakko collected 6 goals and 14 points.
Happy New Year!
Pasi Tuominen, New York
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