The New York Rangers selected Finnish forward Kaapo Kakko with the second overall pick in the 2019 NHL draft Friday.
The 18-year-old was widely viewed as one of the top two prospects in this year's class, with some distance separating him and Jack Hughes from the rest of the field.
The 2018-19 season was Kakko's first full year in a senior league, and he wasted little time becoming acclimated. He finished with 22 goals and 16 assists in 45 appearances for TPS Turku.
Kakko also helped Finland win gold at the 2019 World Juniors. He scored the winning goal against the United States at the 58:34 mark of the third period.
HIGHLIGHTS: What a dramatic medal day that ended with Kaapo Kakko's championship-clinching goal for Finland in the dying minutes of the game to beat Team USA 3-2. Don't miss the highlights from the #WorldJuniors final! @leijonat @usahockey Read more: https://t.co/7VnOT6sjMU https://t.co/yE21VUtrVd
NJ Advance Media's Chris Ryan spoke to an anonymous NHL scout who said Kakko's performance at the World Juniors (two goals and three assists in seven games) helped him bridge the gap to Hughes.
Between his immediate success in the Finnish Elite League and with the national team, Kakko clearly doesn't shy away from the big stage. Along with that, he's already 6'2" and 190 pounds and probably has even more room to grow.
The Athletic's Corey Pronman had this to say after evaluating Kakko's game:
"Kakko has done nothing but impress over the past two seasons. It's hard to pick apart his play or skill set given what he's shown at the international and pro levels. He's given every indication he can be a star forward in the NHL and, given what he's done versus men already, every indication he could step in right away next season and make a seamless transition into a top-nine, if not a top-six forward role."
His floor is high enough, though, that he can become a productive contributor for a long time if he realizes just 70 or 80 percent of his potential.
Selecting him here was a no-brainer for the Rangers, and he should play a big role in their future.
New York always appeared to be the likely landing spot when it won the second overall pick in the draft lottery. Many expected the New Jersey Devils to take Hughes with the No. 1 pick, which did occur.
Since reaching the Eastern Conference Final in 2015, the Rangers lost in the first round, lost in the second round and then missed the playoffs altogether the past two years.
Kakko won't single-handedly turn around the franchise's fortunes, but he will be one of the faces of New York's new era and gives fans a source of optimism for the years ahead.