Rangers’ Kaapo Kakko happy with his improved play: ‘So much better’

Rangers’ Kaapo Kakko happy with his improved play: ‘So much better’

Kaapo Kakko may not have seen the jump in his numbers that he would’ve liked, but the 20-year-old winger has no doubt that his overall game has improved.

The statistics are where forwards like to evaluate themselves, and even though he added to his totals with a goal in Monday’s 6-3 loss to the Capitals, Kakko has made it clear that he had higher expectations of himself. However, he appears to have taken solace in the fact that his confidence has improved, as well as his understanding of how to generate offense in the NHL.

“I think I’m getting so much better than last season,” he said before the loss, which officially knocked the Rangers out of playoff contention. “Not that many points, of course everyone, forwards like me, I want to score some goals and get some points. [I didn’t] have that much this season, but I think my game is getting so much better than last season.”

In the second period, Kakko and Alexis Lafreniere jumped out on a two-on-one rush. Lafreniere managed to dish the puck around a diving Zdeno Chara before Kakko cradled the puck around Capitals netminder Vitek Vanecek and in for the 3-2 lead. It was his ninth goal of the season, bringing his point total to 17.

RangersKaapo KakkoAP

Kakko is in just his second NHL season, with barely over 100 games of experience. Considering this season was shortened due to the pandemic, Kakko hasn’t had nearly enough opportunities for conclusions to be made about his overall game.

The fact is, Quinn has entrusted Kakko with a handful of stretches on the second line, where toward the end of the season he began to find a groove alongside Artemi Panarin and Ryan Strome. He has continued to discover what his size and strength can accomplish in the dirty areas of the ice and how to take advantage.

Kakko, the No. 2-overall pick in 2019, specifically mentioned the difference in his plus-minus from last season (minus-26) to this season (plus-four). He has become more reliable in the defensive zone and has the numbers to back it up. Last season, Kakko had an alarming 3.14 expected goals against. Now, it is down to 1.89.

“I think he’s made a lot of progress this year, his all-around game has certainly improved, defensively as well,” head coach David Quinn said Monday night. “His wall play has improved, and it’s a hard league to develop in, but he’s done a good job.”

The young Swede also acknowledged that he feels more comfortable in his second year, and how being around so many players his age has helped as well.

Goalie Igor Shesterkin made his fourth start in the last five games Monday against Washington. The 25-year-old had 34 saves in the loss.

Chris Kreider (lower body), Jacob Trouba (upper body) and Ryan Lindgren (upper body) are all still “day-to-day.” All three did not play Monday.

Trouba, who is presumed to have a concussion after getting leveled by Islanders forward Matt Martin on April 20, missed his seventh game. Kreider missed his third, while Lindgren was out for the second straight contest.