TLN Prospect Profile #3: Kasperi Kapanen

leafsnation3

As we began to go through the prospect rankings here at The Leafs Nation, divvying up which writer would cover which prospect, we came across a roadblock when it came to Kasperi Kapanen. 

Most prospects on the site’s list were ranked differently by each writer. A few were somewhat unanimous, but only one – your boy Kapanen here – was universally ranked at the position they ultimately fell in. It was hard to decide who should write about him, since everyone seemed to pretty much be in agreement about where he belonged in the list. It didn’t seem fair to pass him off to any one writer – so the team gave him to me, the only writer who didn’t participate in the rankings process. 

I guess laziness is good for something, after all. 

Kapanen was brought on board in Toronto this summer, when the Leafs finally admitted defeat and dealt away Phil Kessel to the Pittsburgh Penguins. 

Pittsburgh drafted Kapanen 22nd overall in the 2014 NHL Entry Draft – which, at the time, I considered a huge steal. I had initially projected the smart, mature Finnish forward to go somewhere between 8th and 13th overall; when the draft hit the 20th selection, I actually had to go back and check to make sure that I hadn’t somehow missed his name being called. 

Pittsburgh is trying to win now, so they had to give up a bona fide prospect to make the Kessel trade happen – so Leafs fans can rest assure that the 19 year old skater (who comes from some kind of strong and versatile hockey bloodlines) was brought in to be a difference maker. He needs more time to develop, but there’s plenty to love about Kapanen’s game already – and with flashes of what made his father so well-respected in the NHL, it’s easy for me to say that I agree with the #3 ranking for Kasperi here in the prospect depth charts. 

Scouting Report

I did a lot of digging last season when I saw that Kasperi was draft eligible, and his game was incredibly mature for someone his age. Like his father, Kapanen is smart about how he reads the other players on the ice – and he’s good at paying attention to both his own teammates and to the opposition. He’s a very aware skater, something that makes him a useful asset as both a scorer and a playmaker in all situations. 

This year, though, I didn’t get to catch as much of his game – so I talked to Finnish native Toni Hakulinen, a writer from Heinola who got a chance to watch Kapanen play for SM-liiga’s Kalpa Kuopio last year. Here’s a bit of what he told me from watching Kapanen last year: 

The Pros

“I like the overall skill level and how he plays such an unselfish game. 

Yes, he wants to score goals but he’s doing so much more. He needs more strength and he needs to work on his consistency, but some time in the AHL should be his last step towards the NHL.”

As mentioned from his draft year, Hakulinen noticed that Kapanen has a mature game for his age – and he’s got a versatile, flexible skill set that he uses to best benefit his team. He’s not always focused on scoring if that’s not what the team needs at the moment – if they need a playmaker, he’ll set up his teammates, and if they need someone to face an oncoming rush, he’s there for that, as well. 

It’s something that seems to be a Kapanen family characteristic, and playing with his dad likely helped with that – but for Toronto, it doesn’t matter why Kapanen plays such a great overall game. All that matters is that he does, because the Leafs sorely need that kind of player on the team. 

The Cons

“Sometimes, he might become lazy in the defensive end when things aren’t going his way. Scoring problems [for the team] may lead to lazy defending, and then everything falls apart. 

Still, he’s a young kid who had to deal with huge pressure in Finland. The Finnish way of handling these high-profile prospects is a bit tough. They get an insane amount of ice time and then they might get tired [leading to problems].”

If there’s any warning sign the Leafs need to look for, this is clearly it. Pushing a prospect too hard – and leading to a burnout – is a risk that every team has to take when they’re pushing for a particular pace of development, but it’s clear that frustrations are Kapanen’s weak point. In Toronto, particularly if the media continues to put such a bright spotlight on players that make for good narratives, that risk increases ever so slightly. 

Then again, there are worse problems for a prospect to have. Kapanen gets most easily frustrated when he tries to put too much pressure on himself to be the savior and do everything, which is hard for a team to fault him for. Making sure that he knows he’s doing well – and helping him develop with his team – should alleviate this problem, as will the maturity that simply comes as players get older. 

Moving Forward

Kapanen is a flexible all-around forward, so he could be projected to go anywhere in Toronto’s lineup down the line. A second or third line role may be the best fit, with a leadership role in all situations – it will all depend on where the other Leafs prospects are in their development when Kapanen is ready to hit the NHL and how he meshes with the rest of the team. He’s a good option to slot in where best needed, though, something that not every player can have said of them – so where he fits isn’t much of a concern now. It’s not where he needs to be put, it’s where he’ll be most needed (isn’t that refreshing?). For now, though, look to see him in the AHL. 

Final Thoughts

I was extremely high on Kapanen at the 2014 Draft, and I was a little bitter that Pittsburgh selected the prospect when he fell so far. That being said, he’s a Leaf now, and that’s what matters – so I’m back to being excited about his future, and where the team will put him long-term. 

(once again, HUGE thank-you to Toni for chatting with me about Kapanen. He tweets almost exclusively in Finnish, but go ahead and give him a follow on Twitter – he’s great for information about the SM-liiga if you’re looking for a firsthand account of a player you want to know more about.)

The Rankings So Far: 

  • Brooksterman

    he better be a top 6 player for what we gave up. nothing lower than a 2nd line winger. last thing we need is another depth player in the bottom 6. especially if harrington turns out to be a bottom pairing defenceman and then the main piece in the trade turns out to be a bottom 6 player… I would be extremely mad about that.

    • SEER

      What if the only reason he gets pushed down to the third line is because Marner, Nylander, Andreas Johnson, Connor Brown, Jeremy Bracco, and some player to be drafted later all turn out better? Wouldn’t that be a good problem to have?

      • no. marner/nylander are sure top 6 forwards. the rest aren’t a sure thing but kapanen better be a top 6 forward what we gave up (retained salary, a 2nd rounder & an elite sniper) or that 1st rounder better be something good. i’d rather have bracco/johnson/brown on the 3rd line. they were never seen as top prospects but kapanen was a central part of this deal so he better be a top 6 forward otherwise we got a bottom 6 and bottom 4 defenceman for a bonafide top 6 winger…

    • silentbob

      I think that’s the wrong way too look at it.

      Kapanen and Harrington are not sure things, and odds are they won’t be NHL players (most prospects don’t make it). But both are very good prospects who have as good, or better, odds of becoming NHL players as other prospects out there, and that’s what thd leafs traded for. Prospects that give them a chance at getting NHL players, and they did s good job of getting quality prospects, and that won’t change if those prospects don’t make it.

  • SEER

    Great blog, Cat.. You do a very thorough job, on all of them.

    I think Kasperi is going to surprise a lot of doubters, very soon… In fact, just NINE short days from now, we will all get a good chance to see him in action in the 2015 Rookie Tournament..! (SEPTEMBER 11th-13th)

    Here’s the tv details and info. page link, to share…, with all my fellow “hungry-for-hockey” co-harts in here.. : )

    —> http://rogerstv.com/page.aspx?lid=12&rid=9&sid=6404&ref=nhlrookie

    Just over a week, folks..! WOO-HOO..!!

    KASPERI KAPANEN MONTAGE

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

  • Brooksterman

    If he develops well, my expectations for this kid will be to turn into someone like a Mikko Koivu – versatile, smart, a good playmaker who can score if needed.

    It’d be great if he was projected to have more scoring power but that’s what we have Marner and Nylander for.

  • Brooksterman

    The scouting report and his draft place both sound really good. It was puzzling to me how he did not get picked before Pittsburgh got him. For me the Leafs got fair return for a guy who did not really step up for the Leafs when stepping up was really called for from the “leaders”.

  • magesticRAGE

    I hope this kid at least winds up a 2nd line winger. I think he would be a good compliment to Nylander, but I’m sure we’ll see that in a week or so. If it’s true about his mental strength, I hope he can get that in check. Emotional issues can derail a career. It’s not like the kid has to worry about being a hero, as there’s a ton of captains and character in the farm. Nylander, Brown, and soon Marner will shoulder the most pressure. We’ll see…