VANCOUVER, British Columbia – Oddly enough, from all the cities in the world, it is this beautiful Canadian meeting point of the snow-capped mountains and tributaries of the mighty Pacific Ocean that the young Finnish winger Kaapo Kakko began his gamekeeper journey with.
This is the city where he came on as number 2 overall in June and where he achieved the game-winning goal for Team Finland exactly one year ago, to defeat the Americans in the national team final of the Junior World Championship.
A lot has happened since then. Kakko has now played 36 games in the NHL and has gone through ups and downs like every 18-year-old. But that much started in Vancouver, where Kakko returned with his Rangers to end this road trip with four games against the Canucks on Saturday night.
"It was a great moment in my life," said Kakko of the design. His English has improved exponentially since that day. “Then I know my new team. Yes, it was a great moment for me. "
The big moments on the ice may not have been as widespread as some may have guessed from the hype surrounding the 6-foot, 3,200-pound Kakko that fought against Jack Hughes for the right to be No. 1 the Devils. But the Rangers are the youngest team in the league, and collective inconsistency has determined the first half of this season – which ends with game # 41 against the Canucks.
The blueshirts played the first two games during the Christmas break, but lost in Edmonton and Calgary with two defensive defeats. Kakko managed to break a personal goalless series of 19 games with a visual shot on Thursday evening, his seventh goal and 16th goal of the season, when he lost 4-3 to the Flames. But he was also arrested for all but one shift over the last 7:52 of the settlement, his team being taken down by a goal after taking a bad holding penalty.
When asked if he thought Kakko would be in the middle of his rookie year, coach David Quinn had a clear answer.
"Yes, and I know a lot of people didn't do that," said Quinn before firing the team on Friday. “It gets a little crazy, the expectations of these guys when they move in. I think everyone has to step back and realize that Connor McDavids, Sidney Crosbys, these guys are outliers; People who get into this league and can make a difference right away. "
Obviously, Kakko has a lot of talent, and it started getting results about a month into the season when he scored five goals in eight games. But then he got the flu and missed both games in Florida. Since then, he has struggled to regain his confidence. This continues in the long NHL season.
"We had 60 games in Finland and I played 45," said Kakko. "But I like to play hockey, so it's good for me."
Learning how to be a hit player, even if you don't stuff the datasheets, and mentally dealing with offensive productions that he wasn't used to in Finland is something that Kakko has already improved.
"He is frustrated, he puts a lot of pressure on himself, he has high expectations of himself," said Quinn. "I think sometimes it hurts a bit because he pushes himself a little. Nobody feels sorry for you in this league if things don't go the way you want them to. You have to have the ability to push it aside and have the next best shift. "
Quinn added that "there was a visible change in him when he got to the bank and things didn't go his way. He doesn't sulk, bows his head, and hangs his shoulders."
But when Kakko produces, the dynamic of trust is as clear as the rising sun over Vancouver Bay.
"These guys who come in at 18 will have some growing pain," said Quinn. "But he'll be a damn good player for us."
You can find more information about the Rangers in the latest episode of the podcast "Up In The Blue Seats":