Though he had previously been expected as part of the top group of prospects attending this week’s Scouting Combine in Buffalo, Kaapo Kakko will no longer be participating at all. No official reason was given for his absence, according to Adam Kimelman of NHL.com, but the top 2019 draft prospect recently won the gold medal at the IIHF World Championship and traveled back to Finland for the celebrations yesterday. Other players that were invited but will not attend include Semyon Chystyakov, Vladislav Firstov, Daniil Gutik, Daniil Misyul and Kirill Slepets.
Kakko’s absence will certainly be disappointing for the teams in attendance, but there is really nothing for him to prove at this point. His best chance at surpassing Jack Hughes for the first-overall selection was at the Worlds, and he did his best by posting six goals and seven points in ten games. Kakko did seem to fade in the back half of the tournament when the games became tougher, but still was noticeable when the puck ended up on his stick. The 6’2″ forward is already a dangerous player below the goal line, able to protect the puck against NHL defenders and create room for himself and teammates.
The other names that have turned down invitations are almost more interesting. Misyul, for instance, was ranked eighth among international skaters by the NHL’s Central Scouting, but is still signed with his KHL team. The combine would have given teams a chance to speak with him in person to get a better read on whether or not he plans on coming over to North America down the road, something that will greatly affect his draft position.
Still, the combine will have 103 prospects taking part in the fitness testing this week. That includes Hughes, who still seems destined to be the next member of the New Jersey Devils, selected first overall this year.