New York Rangers rookie Kaapo Kakko doesn’t remember the exact date. It was five, maybe six years ago, basically a lifetime for someone who’s 18 years old.
Five, maybe six years ago, still living in Finland (where he was born and raised), Kakko went to the doctor for a routine checkup. He swears he didn’t feel sick, didn’t think anything was out of the ordinary. His blood tests came back with surprising news: He had type 1 diabetes and celiac disease.
Kakko remained under the watchful eye of doctors for almost a week. He really wasn’t ill, he says, just learning how to mindfully alter his diet and day-to-day lifestyle in light of his diagnoses.
Five, maybe six years later, Kakko, the No. 2 pick in the NHL Draft, is chatting with me in the Rangers locker room. It’s mid-December of 2019, and Kakko’s boyish face is the only physical reminder of his youth, given his 6-foot-3, 200-pound frame. I tell him I have a bunch of food allergies, and thus have an idea of what it’s like to deal with dietary restrictions, especially the anxiety they can cause. But Kaako insists those fateful lessons from his doctors were more than enough to quell his fears and keep his pro career hopes on track. Though he’d barely visited America prior to being a top-two pick, he’s found the adjustment—at least food-wise—to be seamless.
For his rookie campaign, Kaako is staying with a billet family in Westchester County. He’s learning how to speak fluent English, and insists on doing our interview sans the team translator. But on the ice, the transition has been less smooth. After scoring Finland’s clinching goal in the gold medal game of the 2019 World Junior Ice Hockey Championships, Kakko was drafted by the Rangers with the expectation that he’d be an offensive threat. That may have been a bit premature: After a three-game stretch in November when he put up five points (including three goals) in three games, Kaako has fallen off, as has his playing time. He’s indicated that he’s frustrated with his performance, but not deterred. All things considered, that’s a healthy response for a teenager, who, it bears repeating, was born in 2001.
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