Blackhawks defenseman Henri Jokiharju had high praise for his Finnish men’s national junior teammate Kaapo Kakko following a 6-1 semifinal win over Switzerland on Friday.
Jokiharju, who has two goals and four points in the tournament after playing 32 games with the Blackhawks, compared the 17-year-old Kakko to one of the best scorers in the NHL.
“He seems a little bit like Auston Matthews,” Jokiharju said of Kakko to TSN. “Sure stick, and like quick hands and he’s a good skater, and like he can make some good plays in tight areas and, so I think that’s the biggest (thing) we saw today with that backdoor pass. It’s pretty impressive.”
Matthews was drafted No. 1 overall in 2016 by the Maple Leafs and has scored at least 34 goals and 63 points in each of his first two NHL seasons. He has 19 goals and 36 points this season.
Finland defenseman Henri Jokiharju (Chicago Blackhawks): "[Kakko's] going to be No. 1."— Mike Morreale (@mikemorrealeNHL) January 5, 2019
The Blackhawks could be able to draft Kakko if they continue to struggle this season and win the NHL lottery. They’re currently in 27th place in the 31-team league with 37 points.
Kakko is projected to be the selected No. 2 overall by several media outlets behind American forward Jack Hughes. The 6-foot-2, 190-pound Finnish winger has nine goals and 20 points for TPS in Liiga, Finland’s top division.
Through six games, Kakko has a goal and three assists, while Hughes, who missed three preliminary round games with an undisclosed injury, has three assists in as many games.
The two were scheduled to face off in the preliminary round, but Hughes was injured in the Americans’ 4-1 win. They’ll face off in the gold-medal game at 7 p.m. Central time Saturday at Rogers Arena