Prospect Kakko to pass on scouting combine

Kaapo Kakko, the No. 2-ranked prospect for the 2019 NHL draft, will not be participating in the NHL scouting combine this week in Buffalo, New York, the NHL confirmed Tuesday.

The league did not offer a reason for his absence, but Kakko just completed a gold medal run with Team Finland at the IIHF Men’s World Championship in Slovakia on Sunday and took part in the team’s homecoming celebration Monday in Finland.

In Sunday’s gold medal game, Finland defeated Canada 3-1 to claim its third-ever gold medal at the senior level in men’s hockey. According to reports in Finnish media, 2.54 million people tuned in to the final, representing nearly half the population of the country.

The team was feted by an estimated 50,000 fans at a downtown park in Helsinki on Monday after receiving a Finnish Air Force escort home.

Kakko has made significant gains this season on consensus No. 1 draft prospect Jack Hughes. At the recent world championship, Kakko registered six goals and one assist to record the second-highest point total by a U18 player in World Championship history.

It also marked Kakko’s third world championship in as many tries. He also helped Finland win the World Men’s Under-18 Championship in 2018 and the World Junior Championship in January. He is the youngest player in IIHF history to complete the trifecta.

Additionally, the Finnish phenom had one of the best scoring seasons by a U18 player in Finland’s top pro league. Kakko posted 38 points in 45 games for TPS Turku in Liiga play. Only Florida Panthers center Aleksander Barkov and Nashville Predators winger Mikael Granlund had higher point totals at the same age.

The NHL expects 103 prospects for the 2019 NHL draft to participate in the combine. NHL teams are already interviewing players in Buffalo, with the physical testing portion of the combine to be held Saturday.

Kakko’s agent, Mike Liut, said NHL clubs “are fully in support” of his client missing the scouting combine to celebrate the country’s world championship.

The New Jersey Devils hold the No. 1 overall pick, with the New York Rangers owning the second pick in the 2019 NHL draft.

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