On Kasperi Kapanen, A Very Important Piece In Toronto’s Rebuild

It was always important that in any Phil Kessel trade scenario, the Toronto Maple Leafs got back talented, high-end prospects and/or draft picks. When they finally pulled the trigger on Wednesday, a lot of fans were underwhelmed with the return. I was one of these people.

But really, I don’t know what I was actually expecting. If Toronto wanted a first round pick, a top prospect, an additional ‘B-level’ piece and a roster player, they got it. The second round pick turned to a third round pick isn’t ideal, but I can’t bring myself to care that passionately about it. The salary retention – $1.2M each year for the next seven seasons – does sting, but I don’t think it will actually hinder the Leafs in the long run. I think of it like nasty scratch on the hood of a nice car… it’s ugly, but the car will run just fine.

One of the reasons a lot of folks weren’t terribly impressed with the haul had to do with skepticism surrounding the core piece coming back – Kasperi Kapanen.

More past the jump…

Kapanen? Well, he’s not Derrick Pouliot. The Leafs could really use a stud defensive prospect, and Kapanen is so similar to current prospects William Nylander and Mitch Marner and Connor Brown and Andreas Johnson. A team can only carry so many small, skilled forwards.

This is an unfortunate reaction. We’re really getting ahead of ourselves if we believe that the Leafs are so far along in their rebuild that they can be picky about what positions their top prospects play. Toronto does need another high-end defensive prospect – Morgan Rielly is not enough – but that doesn’t need to be addressed this offseason. They could use another young goaltending prospect as well, but again, no rush.

As soon as the Phil Kessel trade was announced, Kapanen became Toronto’s third-best prospect (and best young right wing in the organization). That is more an indication of how good William Nylander and Mitch Marner are than anything, because Kapanen could still be a top prospect in a number of NHL organizations.

Kapanen came up through the KalPa system in Kuopio, Finland, an organization owned by his father and former NHLer Sami Kapanen (with whom he actually played alongside in KalPa). Making his SM-Liiga debut in the 2012-13 season at just 16-years old, Kapanen scored four goals in 13 games. The following season – his draft year – Kapanen put up seven goals and 14 points in 47 games played as a 17-year old in the country’s top men’s league. He was invited to join Team Finland’s 2014 World Juniors squad, but was unable to participate due to injury.

Heading into the 2014 NHL Entry Draft, Kapanen was ranked all over the first round. At his highest, Kapanen was NHL Central Scouting’s top ranked European player, even ahead of Nylander. ESPN’s Corey Pronman had him ranked 9th, while he appeared 11th on Bob McKenzie of TSN’s top prospects list. Independent scouting services, such as McKeen’s and Future Considerations had Kapanen a little further down in the first round, ranking him 18th and 26th respectively.

Since we’re only a year out, I doubt these pre-draft scouting reports are truly out-of-date…

From Goran Stubb, Dir. of International Scouting, NHL CSS

“He’s a good-skating wing and can also play center. He has a smooth and surprisingly fast style that has surprised many unsuspecting defensemen. His tricky puck skills and quick release have paid off in many games and he has good hand-eye coordination. He’s not overly physical, but does not shy away from rough situations.”

From McKeen’s 2014 NHL Draft Guide

The son of former NHL’er Sami Kapanen, Kasperi returned for a second consecutive season in the Liiga having an opportunity this year to skate along side his father .. showed little difficulty adjusting due to his compact, explosive skating ability that allowed him to intimidate defenders with speed .. possesses a steady cadence to his stride pattern which he can quicken and shorten to suit the purpose .. ‘lurk in the weeds’ type of player once he has gained the zone – sets up well as a shooter with a wicked release on his snapshot and wrist shot, maintaining a strong center of balance while shooting .. tends to keep plays to the outside on account of his physical frame, easily over powered and man handled – he relies more on his finesse and 1 on 1 offensive skills .. shows enthusiasm to finish hits and play physical only in the offensive zone while his efforts wane on the back check .. can be selfish and individualistic when playing with his peer group as was the case at the 2014 World U18 Championships .. after winning a bronze medal at the tournament last year where he finished second in tournament goal scoring (7-5-3-8) Kapanen appeared overwhelmed and fatigued in a 10-0 QF thrashing by Sweden.

From Future Considerations’ 2014 NHL Draft Guide

Kapanen possesses one of the better two-way games in the draft. He has dynamic puck skills, terrific skating ability and hockey sense. He’s the total package on offense. Kapanen displays an explosive skating stride, quick off the hop. Very agile and quick laterally. He is a fantastic skater, with a seemingly effortless stride that generates healthy levels of speed. Lulls opponents to sleep with a pedestrian-looking stride before he explodes into a full-on rush toward the net or loose puck. He skates very well with the puck, has good hands and skates with his head up, looking for passing options. He also does not shy away from the physical side of the game. Possesses a creative mind. Kapanen sees the ice well and appears to have a great IQ for the game.

Kapanen’s consistency in his effort level is our main concern, even more than his lack of strength. Kapanen’s competitive edge takes a bit of a dive when he reaches his own end, and he can improve his defensive effort and awareness. There are times he looks like a dominant two-way guy, but you know where his heart lies–creating offensive chances. He will also go through self-evoked slumps in when the physical game gets ramped up as he does not mind hitting, but does not like to be hit. That point leads us to his size, or lack thereof. He can get outmuscled pretty easily by average- sized opponents along the wall and loses his effectiveness in grittier matches because of this.

While it might not have been the most dramatic slide in NHL Draft history, it was surprising to see Kapanen drop all the way down to the Pittsburgh Penguins, 22nd overall. They finally had legitimate offensive threat on the wing in their prospect pool – one they figured would eventually line up beside Sidney Crosby or Evgeni Malkin in a few short years. Just a few days after the Draft, the Penguins signed Kapanen to a three-year entry level contract.

In the following year, Kapanen didn’t exactly break out in a big way as some would have hoped.

There was definitely some good. Still only 18 years old after being a very, very young 2014 draftee, Kapanen grew an inch, and now stands at 6’0, 180lbs. He also improved his scoring clip with KalPa, up to 0.51 PPG after scoring 0.29 PPG last season. Kapanen finished with 21 points in 41 games, finishing sixth in team scoring and second league scoring amongst U19 players (behind Colorado’s Mikko Rantanen).

That steady development was somewhat tarnished though by a subpar showing at the U20 World Juniors. Kapanen managed just a single goal in five games, while the team as a whole only scored eight times the entire tournament. It was a rough go for Finland, who went from defending World Champs to being booted in the quarterfinals by Sweden. Kapanen will have a chance to help rectify the situation this year, if Toronto chooses to release him for the tournament (which wouldn’t be a half bad idea).

Following the SM-Liiga season, Kapanen was reassigned by Pittsburgh to AHL Wilkes-Barre Scranton as they were closing out the regular season and preparing for a playoff run. Instead of joining the team in a limited role like a lot of young players do, Kapanen immediately made an impact, scoring a goal and assist in the final four games of the season. In the playoffs, Kapanen appeared in seven of the teams eight games, helping the ‘Baby Penguins’ sweep the Syracuse Crunch in the first round before falling to the eventual Calder Cup winners, the Manchester Monarchs, in the second round. Kapanen scored an impressive three goals and five points in seven AHL playoff games (again, as an 18-year old).

This season, one has to imagine that Kapanen will stick in the AHL with the Toronto Marlies full time. While he will only turn 19 later this season, it’s been made very clear by Toronto brass that they will be stockpiling their Marlies and Orlando Solar Bears affiliates with young talent. In an admittedly small sample size, Kapanen proved that he can handle the AHL game, and could slot well into the Marlies’ second line right wing position behind Connor Brown.

Since being drafted, there’ve been little complaints concerning Kapanen’s offence, but he will need to spend a good deal of time this year in the weight room adding some bulk. At 6’0, he’s not necessarily small anymore, but will need to add some strength so as not to be so easy to knock off the puck. Kapanen seems like the kind of player that will continue producing on offence at the AHL level, but it may still be a couple years before the rest of his game catches up and he’s ready to make the jump to the NHL.

What are his chances? Shawn Reis recently took a close look at Kapanen’s (and Scott Harrington’s) PCS numbers and there just isn’t enough data yet to make a good prediction. PCS, for the uninitiated, is Prospect Cohort Success – a statistical model that finds historic comparables for players based on age, league, point production, and height. Here’s what Shawn found…

I’ve mentioned before that I’m not a huge fan of using PCS% with players in European leagues because the sample size of historical coparables is significantly lower than it is when we’re looking at CHL players, but here are Kapanen’s numbers anyways.
He’s given a 14.29% chance of reaching 200 NHL games, which certainly isn’t great, but those numbers figure to automatically increase when he plays in either the NHL or AHL for Toronto next season.  His PPG of NHL Comparables is 0.45, which is actually a relatively high number regardless of what league you’re comparing in.  This might back up the qualitative idea that Kapanen has real top-six upside in the NHL down the road.
As for his historic comparables, I thought it was pretty cool that his 2014-2015 season compares with the 1991-1992 season that his father Sami had over two decades ago.

Popular opinion suggests that Kapanen will likely develop into a top six forward at the next level, with a few believing he’s still capable of becoming a regular first line winger. He very likely won’t become the elite talent that Kessel was, but that’s not the point (hate the trade if you must, but it isn’t Kasperi’s fault). 

The point is, Kapanen will be a very important piece for the Leafs going forward, and someone you’re allowed to get excited about. He’ll be a very, very interesting player to watch this season.

  • SEER

    I think some people pay too much attention to who the press “deem to be” future stars… I have followed Kasperi for three seasons, now.. and was truly excited (and very surprised that the Pens let him go).. when he was a part of the trade…

    I also raved about Froese, last season.. and he was just signed on a two-way, yesterday… (his video in also in my channel)..

    Made this up a a couple of days ago…, for everyone..

    ICE SHOOTER: KASPERI KAPANEN MONTAGE

    —> https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YY_8NNteTXc

  • silentbob

    Three comments about Kapanen

    First, true he is very much like Marner, Nylander, Brown & Johnsson, but its silly to think of this as a bad thing. Not all of the Leafs prospects are going to make it to the NHL (a good success rate is about 20%). adding Kapanen increases the odds of the Leafs getting NHL talent out of their prospect pool.

    Second, successful teams have a good, strong identity and culture. Kapanen fits in with their other young players and (one would imagine) the type of team that is being built here. With players and prospects like Rielly, Kadri, Gardiner, Marner, Nylander… a fast, skilled forward who can keep up with and complement those players is exactly what you want.

    Third, Kapanen is not a soft, one-way offensive player. From what I’ve read he is a very good two-way player and can be pretty aggressively physically as well. Sounds like he be a defensively responsible top line winger, or a 3rd line defensive player able to add 15-20 goals. That kind of versatility adds a lot of options and depth to the Leafs prospect pool.

  • Jeremy Ian

    OK, OK, you guys are turning me around. I was among the disheartened at the return on the Kessel trade, though agreed he had to go for the rebuild to be a deep rebuild.

    The Leafs do finally have decent prospects and a lot of coming picks, so things look good for the longer run.

    The salary retention for seven seasons may not be a “big” deal, but it confines the team’s ability to flip short-term players somewhat.

    But still, the spotlight is now on the Leafs’ ability to develop their young talent. That’s a good problem to have!

  • Brooksterman

    Well now we have a tone of skilled winger prospects. When will management figure it out that successful teams are built with strength at centre and on defense. Right now those two positions are our weakest in the prospect pool. We should be drafting mostly centres and defenseman next year. I’m hoping for us to draft Logan Brown in next years draft. 6’6″ centre that has been described as having elite skating and skill. Not very often you get those attributes in a 6’6″ centre. He just needs to get physically stronger and develop a mean streak and he’ll be a Getzlav/Lindros type centre.

    • silentbob

      Marner can play center and I’d be surprised if he wasn’t the Knights #1 center next year and if he wasn’t developed a center from this point forward. Kapanen has also played center in the past and is capable of playing that position. This criticism that they don’t have any centers just isn’t true.

      My preference is similiar to yours, I’d rather have a Getzlaf then a Giroux, but Shanahan, Babcock and company don’t seem to be putting a lot of importance on the size of the players and team. At his point we should stop hoping/expecting them to change that.

      • Brooksterman

        There is a difference between having guys that can play centre and having centre depth. I’d rather have a guy who’s natural position is centre and that’s all he plays than a player who plays the wing but can play centre. Generally the guy like Logan Brown who is a natural centre will be stronger at that position than say a Kapanen who can play centre but mostly has played the wing. Marner may play centre next year and do great and it turns out that is his natural position. I’m just skeptical because we seem to be getting guys like Marner, Nylander and Kapanen who yes they can play wing or centre but project more as wingers. Plus I’m skeptical of Marner as a centre because scouts who saw him play a little at centre last year said he wasn’t as effective as he was on the wing. They just seem too much like Kessel in that when they’re drafted they’re listed as centres but because of the style they play end up on the wing.

        • silentbob

          Whats the difference their “natural position” is center or if they learn it later on as long as they play the position well at the NHL level? You could argue that Sittler is still the best center the Leafs have had the last 40 yeas or so, he started as a winger.

          One of the biggest reasons players end up on the wing is a lack of defensive responsibility. From that perspective, the wing is a much easier position to play. Unlike Kessel, Marner and Kapanen are good two-way players. There is no reason to doubt their ability to play the position at this point, or assume that Brown will be a better center then anyone we have in the system already.

      • Gary Empey

        Here is list of the present Centers for the Leafs. Lots of six footers there. Finding a super star center is hard to do. I don’t think anyone is trading theirs until they are well past their prime.

        Mark Arcobello -5-8- 166–

        Casey Bailey 6-3- 205–

        Tyler Bozak 6-1- 195–

        Sam Carrick 6-0- 207–

        Byron Froese 6-0- 176–

        Peter Holland 6-2- 192–

        Nazem Kadri 6-0- 188–

        Leo Komarov 5-11- 198–

        Trevor Smith 6-1- 195–

        Nick Spaling 6-1- 201

  • giproc

    I’m thinking one of the reasons Kapanen dropped in the first round was the perception that he was one of those super-skilled European players who seemed selfish and entitled, potentially inconsistent and difficult to coach.

    Nylander had it to some extent as well. This year it was Sprong. North Am players of similar ilk tend to slide as well… Josh Ho Sang comes to mind even if the similarity stops at misperception.

  • MatsSundin#13

    Love this article Justin! As Duabas said, they weren’t getting the “sexy names” on the market, but getting guys that will be great players in the future.

  • jasken

    Lets try this for a change, lets not put expectations on players like Kapanen except accept them for what they are. If they make it to NHL great its a bonus and accept from what they produce not put achievements which they cant reach and see what they do reach.

    Bulk-up sure but he’s probably already done that as his season ended 2 months ago I believe. Anyways it sounds more like he needs learn to use his body to protect the puck better not the muscle mass he has. His production drop maybe he need time to develop to the pressures of professional hockey or being away from family.

    Predictions are easy AHL at best and anything more and were pleasantly surprised see an easy prediction can be.

  • TGT23

    People need to stop thinking of these players as if Kapanen = Leafs 2nd line RW in three years. He is an asset. A very good, cost-controllled, young asset. If he become a stud, great, if not, they can use him to acquire another asset they believe has greater value.

    Buffalo has done a great job of this over the last couple of years. Just grab as many kids in the 1st and 2nd rounds as possible. Some of them will play for you; other can be traded for guys to address a bigger need e.g. the Ryan O’Reilly trade. Just because the Leafs didn’t get Pouliot doesn’t mean they won’t be able to turn that 1st or Kapanen into a equally good D or C eventually.

  • He was ranked the top European by CSS (ISS ranked him 2nd behind Nylander). He is described as 6’0, 2-way and physical, elite skater puck handler and Hockey IQ. He fell to 22nd because those skills didn’t translate into points in 2014. However, in 2013 as a 16 year old at the World U18 Championships he finished second in tournament goal scoring, and in 2015 scored three goals and five points in seven AHL playoff games. In plain English, he projects as a 1st line NHL forward.

    • TGT23

      So, you’re saying knee-jerk reactions may prove to be knee-jerk as we seemed to have gotten everything you could reasonably ask for for Kessel.

      A top prospect with big upside. A defensive prospect with potential, a first round pick plus another pick.

      • Gary Empey

        There were only 8 teams on Kessel’s limited trade list.

        Bob McKenzie: reported those eight teams were believed to be: Boston; Chicago; Los Angeles; Minnesota; Montreal; New York Rangers; Philadelphia; and Pittsburgh.

        What’s interesting about Kessel’s list is that all eight teams are currently facing significant cap challenges. For any one of them to acquired a player who’s signed through 2021-22 with a cap hit of $8 million, they’d need to shed some serious salary in the process.

        • TGT23

          Yup.

          And since two were MTL and BOS there were only 6 teams.

          Of those teams Pittsburgh was the only one that seemed to have flexibility to make a move happen and wanted Kessel badly enough.

          I’m beginning to like the return more and more. Not a bad return for a guy who didn’t want to be here and who we had one team to trade with.

          I heard a report that Kessel cancelled his summer hockey camp in T.O after the trade… If you didn’t quite know the kind of guy he was.

          • giproc

            Of Kessel’s 8 teams EVERY ONE were supposed to have cap issues, and the Pens were the only team able to shift things around enough to afford him. The fact that Kessel had to make a list, and the fact that his list was the 8 hardest teams to trade him to is pretty strong evidence that he wanted to stay in TO. I have huge respect for Kessel and I am very much not a Pens fan, I generally cheer against them fairly actively. that being said, I hope Kessel wins the cup in Pittsburgh, I’ll be cheering him on all the way.

          • TGT23

            No… Sorry. If Kessel wanted to stay here maybe he should have given a damn the second half of last season. He didn’t. And then, being a jerk about it, makes sure his list is full of teams that would be hard pressed dealing for him.

            And then he cancels a kids hockey camp and I’m supposed to respect him?

  • SEER

    I don’t think anyone is “assuming” that there is any guarantee with any new player, until we see what they do for this team.., but I also think that self-appointed, know-it-alls like Steve Simmons are completely wrong in assuming they won’t turn out to be good, either…

    And Simmons.., if you read anything else but your own non-sourced drivel.., maybe you should check with at least three “qualified” references, before you go spewing malicious gossip… I hear that Babs never even thought anything close to what you “think” you saw in his rolling eyes… and remember.., you and the Sun can be sued, for stating something as fact, when you have absolutely no source whatsoever to back up your imaginary claims…

    Here’s a guy the same size as Gilmour who has already proven what he is capable of in the NHL.. and another part of this Kessel trade, with Kapanen.

    YOUR TIME HAS COME:: MARK ACROBELLO MONTAGE

    —> https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=apbgLLrmA-E

    P.S.: I think Leaf fans should all call the Toronto Sun & Sportsnet.. call for you to be fired… and have you taken out of the media… permanently.. Your last two articles in the Sun are legally slanderous…

    ..And if you think you are a seer, we have to sit down and talk.. and I’ll “prove” you wrong..

    • SEER

      Seer let me first say an impressive body of work you have accomplished. It is much appreciated. As far as lets get somebody fired school of thought, the bull in the china shop Burke was a specialist at this as he would simply phone up the local sports out let whether a newspaper, radio or t.v. station and proceed to use every profanity he could on the poor secretary as he demanded that the individual be fired. I have two close friends that had Burke try to bully them out of their jobs. Classless to say the least.

      Recently there were some reporters that suggested the Acquillini family that own the Canucks didn’t like these reporters suggesting that there was some pressure and involvement of the family on the Luongo trade.

      The Acquillini family immediately hired a high priced lawyer and threatened to sue several sports outlets and including this paper.

      A very thin line there Seer as the last thing we need to see is lap dog, cheer leading only media out there. I totally agree if a guy has libeled or slandered go after the individual.

      But I don’t want to see the bullies of the world try to control the media. Ironically Burke has spent a lot of time, effort and money in worthy causes trying to eliminate bullies. Somehow abusing female switch board operators or trying to take the job of a hockey beat writer isn’t considered bullying by the likes of Burke.

      • SEER

        Let me first say, thanks for the compliment…

        But… I’m not a bully in the farthest stretch of the imagination… I just speak what I feel.. and I wasn’t telling people to bring burning crosses and storm down the doors at the Sun and/or Sportsnet…

        I think being calm, “but firm” is the way to go with this…

        Did you read Simmons “particle” on Kapanen..?.. He wasn’t making opinions.. He was stating his opinions as fact… and also trying to say that he knows what Babcock was thinking, when he rolled his eyes… That’s just being an idiot.. and alluding to the readers that he has some kind of inner circle knowledge about things.., when almost everybody who is anybody knows that he has been ostracized from most inner circles, for his childish gossip…

        Just think back to what Feschuk did with Reimer’s mother… Simmons has tried to top that a few times since, by trying to use BS as facts…

        Just a few segments from his article:

        1.) …”All of them.. are under 6-feet tall and not one of them weighs as much as 180 lbs.” .. (refers to our 2015 draft picks)

        **** He obviously hasn’t read up on the four reference pages I use…

        2.) ..”Already coach Mike Babcock has rolled his eyes about the size of those he will be asked to coach in the future.”….

        **** For all anyone knows, Mike could have been rolling his eyes at some of the draftees mothers, because I know that I and many others were.. Had to be one of the best years for outstanding looking Moms… These ladies should be very proud of themselves…

        But, I heard a completely different reason for him rolling his eyes.. and it had nothing to do with either of these two things above…

        3.) …”Brendan Shanahan isn’t about to name himself or anyone else general manager of the Leafs.”….

        **** Right. He’s basically saying that we will never have a GM.. Does that even make sense to “anyone”..???? He has no repoire with Shanny.. and/or any of the other management..

        There are MANY more instances like this in the same article…

        He uses sensationalism to try and get readers to post comments (good or bad) because that’s the only thing that keeps him alive in the Sun… The best thing people could do, would be NOT to comment… and completely ignore him, so he has no readership following..

        Simmons never even played hockey… (maybe Squirts, as that would be fitting)… He should go back to school and study what real journalism is…