Conventional wisdom would see the New Jersey Devils select American Jack Hughes No. 1 at the 2019 NHL Draft followed by the New York Rangers taking consensus No. 2 prospect Kaapo Kakko of Finland with the next pick.
Not so fast.
Kakko scored a highlight-reel goal against Team Canada on Friday in the 2019 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship opener that appeared to have the Devils scratching their collective chins.
The 18-year-old winger corralled a beautiful touch pass from Toni Rajala then proceeded to beat Matt Murray with a nifty backhand deke along the ice.
Moments after Kakko opened the scoring, the Rangers sent out the following tweet.
— New York Rangers (@NYRangers) May 10, 2019
Suffice it to say they liked what they saw.
Six minutes later, however, the Devils took a page out of the same playbook by adding a GIF of the goal and a second set of 👀 to their tweet.
— New Jersey Devils (@NJDevils) May 10, 2019
Perhaps it’s merely some light-hearted gamesmanship by the Devils, or maybe general manager Ray Shero and his staff simply haven’t made up their minds yet as to which player they’re going to take first overall.
While Hughes remains the likely top pick, Kakko’s stock continues to rise and a strong showing at the worlds – or a poor one from Hughes, who is representing the United States at the tournament – could end up impacting how draft night unfolds.
At the end of the day the Rangers are in a win-win situation, guaranteed that either Kakko or Hughes will be available when it’s their turn.
Goran Stubb, the NHL’s director of European scouting, recently compared Kakko to one of the NHL’s most dynamic young wingers.
“I would say the closest might be another Finn, Mikko Rantanen with Colorado,” Stubb told the NHL Draft Class podcast. “They both come from Turku, they’re both raised by the same club, TPS, and TPS has quite a good reputation of raising young players.”
Rantanen ranks 16th in NHL points over the past two regular seasons with 171 in 155 games. If Kakko turns out to be anywhere close to as productive as the Avalanche star then it’ll be a serious boon to either the Devils or Rangers…or whichever team ends up selecting Kakko.
Kakko added an empty-net goal against Canada as Finland went on to win Friday’s contest 3-1. He was named his team’s player of the game.