To get to this point, of course there had to be passion. But the way Kaapo Kakko feels about hockey seems to go well beyond the regular definition.
The 18-year-old Finnish winger is set to be one of the top two picks in the NHL draft Friday in Vancouver, either going to the Devils at No. 1 or the Rangers at No. 2. A glimpse into his personality from those who have known him for a few years reveals a player who is not only competitive and driven, but one who also has a childlike love of the game.
That love has nurtured his immense skill that has grown with his man-sized 6-foot-2, 200-pound frame, carried him to unparalleled international success and now has him on the verge of stardom in New York.
“First of all, I think he has huge passion for the game,” Lauri Korpikoski, the Rangers’ 2004 first-round pick (No. 19 overall) told The Post from Finland.
“Just the hours he puts in — either you have it or you don’t,” said Korpikoski, who returned to his homeland after a nine-year NHL career and was the captain of Kappo’s team, TPS, in Finland’s top division. “It comes naturally from him, since he was a little kid. Just the playing in the outdoors and all that stuff, the hours he put in, it tells you the level of pure enjoyment he has for the game and you want to make yourself better that way.”
There has been a spotlight on Kakko for a long time, with a 13-month span that ended in May seeing him become only the seventh player in history to win gold at the Under-18 championships, the World Junior Championships and the men’s World Championships.