The NHL has been gifted with generational talents as the first overall pick in recent years. Players such as Connor McDavid, Auston Matthews and Rasmus Dahlin have put an immense pressure on every first overall pick to be such, however, that's an unsustainable expectation.
The 2019 Entry Draft is becoming a race between Jack Hughes and Kaapo Kakko, yet neither should be considered generational despite what the headlines are saying. Hughes is undoubtedly a top prospect and will be a fantastic NHL player, but Kaapo Kakko has far more potential to make an immediate impact at the NHL level.
Kakko has now 2 goals, 1 assist in five periods as a center in #Liiga. He is now on pace for the third best U18 season in Liiga in after year 2000. Only Granlund and Barkov have scored with more points per game. #NHLdraft #2019NHLdraft https://t.co/wtvSvhuj6N— Miika Arponen (@MiikaArponen) December 14, 2018
Kakko is setting records in the Finnish professional league at just 17 years old.
Kakko is playing in a league against full grown men in Finland, but his 6-foot-1, 180-pound frame allows him to out-body any competition. Through the first 27 games in Liiga, Kakko has averaged .74 points per game. In comparison, Aleksander Barkov posted .90 PPG in Liiga as a 17-year-old. If Kakko can maintain a pace of nearly a PPG in a professional league, he'd be a shoo-in for NHL stardom.
There's just no competition when comparing a prospect in a junior league to one in a professional league.
There's a reason why Auston Matthews decided to play his draft year in Switzerland. Playing against grown men as a 17-year-old gives far more insight on a prospect's ability to compete at the NHL level.
Hughes has put up exceptional numbers at the USDP level, but we'll have to see how he does against older competition. His smaller frame of 5-foot-10 and 168 pounds makes him more reliant on his speed and hands to get the job done. Against larger competition, he pales in comparison to Kakko.
The World Junior Championship will give insight to both players' development and how they perform against older competition. Don't be surprised to see Kakko jump to first overall in draft rankings after the tournament.