Kaapo Kakko shook his head in agreement.
"So good," said the 18-year-old Rangers winger about the recent return trip to his home country of Finland, while his NHL team took a nine-day break for the All-Star weekend and their farewell week, which ended with the Friday evening garden game against the Red wings.
"It was so good for me to spend time with friends and family," said number 2 overall on Friday morning. "It was so good for me."
There were obviously high expectations for Kakko, but as was to be expected for such a young player when he first played on the smaller North American ice rinks, there were ups and downs. One of the big gains was to book the most ice age of his short NHL career shortly before the break, which he achieved with Chris Kreider and Mika Zibanejad with a lead of 19:33 minutes.
Coach David Quinn did not let him come back and prevailed against Brakan Lemieux and Filip Chytil against the worst Red Wings in the third row against Kakko. But Kakko had a great opportunity to get back up if he continued as he did before the break.
“I think people can lose sight of something if you put an 18-year-old on your top line. He will hit the other team's top line and the other team's top D pairing. This can be a big task, ”said Quinn, who started the game on the flank of Pavel Buchnevich, who was ill for a while before the break had been.
"In my opinion [Buchnevich] is a good fit with this line right now, ”added Quinn. "But still, I wouldn't hesitate to put Kakko up there."
Like most teenagers – with his 19th birthday on February 13th – Kakko has focused on making points, which is far from playing in the top Finnish league. He had seven goals and 16 points in his first 44 NHL games. That included scoring in his last 28 games and no points in his last eight going into Friday night. Quinn and his team tried to reassure him that he shouldn't just rate his game by score, and that's a lesson that at least partially pays off.
"I think the last one [few] I played games better, ”said Kakko. "I have no goals, no points. But it is coming. I played last game for almost 20 minutes. That is good for me. "
Despite most of the games he has ever played in a Finnish season, Kakko was tired with the words "Tired? No, that's not me. "And Quinn had a reason for it.
"When you talk to him, he didn't play that many minutes, so Quinn said. "I don't see any fatigue in him. He had a bit of [a dip in play] in November with some of our other younger boys. But I haven't seen it [fatigue], "
Quinn's team will be playing in the shadow of the February 24 trading deadline over the next few weeks, which could dramatically change the composition of the squad. Among the strikers, Kreider is arguably the best rental company on the market, and Buchnevich could be on the move, along with the outstanding freelance agents Ryan Strome and Jesper Fast. That is many minutes when any number of them leave.
After the short journey home for a few days, they hope that Kakko will be refreshed and ready to take on a bigger role in the second half.
"As an 18-year-old European, there are many challenges because the game is so different," said Quinn. "Kakko makes a lot of adjustments in his life, and that's a lot to refuse from an 18-year-old – and I think he did a good job of dealing with it."
Kakko wondered how many minutes and roles he had played again.
"I like to play hockey," he said. "So it's good for me."
You can find more information about the Rangers in the latest episode of the podcast "Up In The Blue Seats":