If the next decade or two go according to plan for the Rangers, the final score of their game against the Oilers on Saturday will be little more than a historical footnote.
They lost, 4-1, at Madison Square Garden, but the goal that really mattered was the one for the home team, not the four for the visitors.
That is because it was scored by Kaapo Kakko, the 18-year-old Finn whom the Rangers drafted second overall in June. It was the first of his NHL career, and a beauty, at that.
“Of course, it feels good, and that’s why I play hockey, because I’m scoring goals,” he said.
Kakko’s English is limited, but his reaction on the ice spoke volumes. He celebrated with a happy yell and gave a big hug to Ryan Strome, who got the assist.
When the goal was announced while Kakko’s face was being shown on the video board, fans gave him a loud ovation.
“Yeah, that was a great feeling, so thanks fans, about that,” he said.
Kakko got his breakthrough score with 1:32 remaining in the first period. Strome, a former Islander and Oiler, skated into the top of the slot and fed Kakko with a nifty backhand pass.
The rookie quickly maneuvered the puck from backhand to forehand then back to his backhand, flipping it past the left pad of the sprawling, face-down goalie Mike Smith, with defenseman Oscar Klefbom in futile pursuit.
Asked to describe the play, Kakko said, “That was a great pass by Stromer, and that’s it. A little bit lucky.”
What about his part in it? “I think it was a great goal and big goal for us, for the team; first goal is always big,” he said. “But it’s not enough, one goal.”
After concluding his English-language interview, Kakko seemed more animated as he conducted one with a reporter in his native tongue.
Others were happy to weigh in.
“It was a nice one, too,” goaltender Henrik Lundqvist said. “It’s nice to see him get rewarded. He’s playing really well.”
Artemi Panarin said through a translator, “I’m happy for him. He definitely gained some confidence, so it’s only going to get better from here.”
Asked what he has seen from Kakko, coach David Quinn said, “The skill set that everybody talks about. His size, the way he competes, his vision. He’s got all those things that put him in a position to get drafted second overall.”
On Twitter, fellow Finn and former Oiler and Ranger Esa Tikkanen wrote, “Atta boy Kaapo Kakko! We have all waited your first as a Ranger and what a beauty it was. Many more to come! #NHL”
The Rangers are 2-1. The Oilers improved to 5-0 for the first time since 1985-86.
Edmonton tied it at 6:45 of the second when Klefbom’s long shot slithered through traffic in Lundqvist’s sightline and bounded past him.
In the third, Brendan Lemieux was called for interfering with Connor McDavid, and Edmonton took advantage at 9:44 when McDavid’s centering pass bounced in off the skate of defenseman Jacob Trouba and past Lundqvist.
The Oilers made it 3-1 on a goal credited to Leon Draistaitl, who backhanded the puck between Lundqvist’s pads. Zack Kassian took a whack at him, and the puck trickled in. Lundqvist thought there should have been a whistle.
“It was sitting right between my knees and he was just hammering it,” Lundqvist said. “I thought it was still there and then it was in.”
Draistaitl’s empty netter made it 4-1. But it only is mid-October. There are many more games where that one came from, but the Rangers hope there are few young players like Kakko.
Next on Kakko's to-do list: Thursday against the Devils and Jack Hughes, the No. 1 overall pick. Entering Saturday night’s game, Hughes had yet to score his first NHL goal.