The New York Rangers have reached an agreement with Kaapo Kakko on a two-year contract. The deal will carry an average annual value of $2.1MM according to Arthur Staple of The Athletic. Kakko was a restricted free agent and did not have arbitration rights. CapFriendly reports that the deal will pay him $1.8MM in 2022-23 and $2.4MM in 2023-24.
It certainly hasn’t been the career many expected so far for the 2019 second-overall pick. Kakko stepped directly into the NHL as a teenager in 2019-20 and scored ten goals and 23 points in 66 games. While it wasn’t dominant, his powerplay production was at least relatively strong and it looked as though he could grow into a top-six role rather quickly.
Now two years later and things haven’t really grown at all. Kakko is coming off a season where he scored seven goals and 18 points in 43 games, bouncing back and forth between dominant puck protector and invisible perimeter player. The consistency just hasn’t been there for the young forward, who is now 21 and signing his second contract.
Still, there are moments and stretches where it seems to be coming together. Eight of his 18 points came in a seven-game stretch in November when he was given a bigger opportunity, and in the playoffs, he had effective games with the “Kid Line” of Alexis Lafreniere and Filip Chitil.
Some will point to his playing time as a reason why his production has been so limited but the fact is, Kakko’s most common even-strength linemates this season were Mika Zibanejad and Chris Kreider, two of the team’s most dominant offensive threats. In fact, Artemi Panarin comes third on that list among forwards, showing just how many chances Kakko received to play with top talent.
It’s not even like he’s been unlucky; Kakko’s career shooting percentage is 10.3%, and actually reached a highwater mark of 11.3% this season. It’s just that he only generated 62 shots on net in his 43 appearances, something that will have to change if he is to take the next step and be more than just a decent, two-way middle-six player. Those don’t usually get picked with the second-overall selection.
That’s what a bridge deal is for. Giving a player like Kakko a chance to prove he’s more than he is right now, before discussing a long-term deal down the road. The young forward will still be a restricted free agent at the end of this contract but he’ll have to take a serious step forward if he wants to live up to his draft billing.