TLN Top 20 Prospects 2016: #5 Kasperi Kapanen

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Phil Kessel was always much-maligned here in Toronto thanks mostly to the cost of acquisition: Tyler Seguin and Dougie Hamilton. The Leafs could’ve had a truly elite center and a very good d-man, but instead had an elite goal-scoring winger. Whatever you think of the trade now, it was hard to separate at the time Kessel’s value on the ice from the cost to put him there in a Leafs uniform (even tough the cost wasn’t expected to be that high).

Our fifth rated prospect will likely suffer the same fate. Kasperi Kapanen was the centrepiece to the other Phil Kessel trade, the one that sent him to the Pittsburgh Penguins, and as long as he’s a Leaf that’s surely what he’ll be remembered for and the player he’ll be unfortunately compared to. The Leafs turned a house into a red paperclip

That’s probably an unfair analogy for our fifth best prospect, but it’s hard to ignore the lineage of how he became a Leaf. Rather than fixate on the past and how he came to be a Leaf, let’s focus on what he can become as a Leaf. 

The Votes

Jeff Ryan H. Shawn Ryan F. Adam Dom Jess Katy Readers
15 4 5 4 5 4 6 12 6

Kapanen was ranked 3rd on our 2015 list and 2016 midterms.

Player Bio

Position Hometown Height Weight Hand 2015 Team Acquired
RW/LW Kuopio, FIN 6’0 181 Right Toronto Marlies Trade (July 2015)

The Stats

 SEASON Age TEAM LEAGUE GP G A TP NHLe PIM +/-
 2010-11 14  KalPa U16  Jr. C SM-sarja Q 0 0 0 0 N/A 0 N/A
  14  KalPa U16  Jr. C SM-sarja 26 14 8 22 N/A 10 N/A
 2011-12 15  KalPa U16  Jr. C SM-sarja Q 8 12 4 16 N/A 4 N/A
  15  KalPa U16  Jr. C I-divisioona 2 1 1 2 N/A 10 N/A
  15  KalPa U18  Jr. B SM-sarja Q 2 0 0 0 N/A 2 N/A
  15  KalPa U18  Jr. B SM-sarja 25 13 11 24 N/A 6 N/A
  15  Finland U16 (all)  International-Jr 16 11 6 17 N/A 20 11
 2012-13 15  KalPa U18  Jr. B SM-sarja 3 3 3 6 N/A 0 N/A
  16  KalPa U20  Jr. A SM-liiga 36 14 15 29 N/A 16 -3
  16  KalPa  Liiga 13 4 0 4 7.32 2 1
  16  Finland U17   WHC-17 5 3 6 9 N/A 4 N/A
  16  Finland U18  WJC-18 7 5 3 8 N/A 4 4
  16  Finland U18 (all)  International-Jr 8 1 1 2 N/A 15 -1
 2013-14 16  KalPa U18  Jr. B SM-sarja 2 5 1 6 N/A 0 N/A
  17  KalPa  Liiga 47 7 7 14 7.08 10 -8
  17  Finland U18  WJC-18 5 1 1 2 N/A 0 -3
  17  Finland U18 (all)  International-Jr 5 1 1 2 N/A 0 -3
  17  Finland U20 (all)  International-Jr 5 1 0 1 N/A 0 N/A
 2014-15 18  KalPa   Liiga 41 11 10 21 12.18 14 2
  18  Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins  AHL 4 1 1 2 19.27 0 -1
  18  Finland U20 (all)  International-Jr 10 3 2 5 N/A 0 -1
  18  Finland U20  WJC-20 5 1 0 1 9.02 0 -1
 2015-16 19  Toronto Maple Leafs  NHL 9 0 0 0 0 2 -3
  19  Toronto Marlies  AHL 44 9 16 25 21.89 8 7
  19  Finland U20  WJC-20 7 2 3 5 32.21 2 -2

Kapanen’s first pro season was not bad for a 19-year-old. He mustered 25 points in 44 games in the AHL and had a decent showing at the World Juniors. His NHLe improved a great deal year-over-year and next season could see an even bigger rise.

Projection Stats

pGPSn pGPSs pGPS% pGPS PPG pGPS PP82 pGPSr
183 (5/18) 61 (6/18) 31.1% (11/18) 0.51 (11/18) 41.70 (11/18) 15.84 (11/18)

  • pGPSn: The number of matches between the subject and the player-seasons (one season by a single player, i.e, John Tavares 2008 OHL) in the historical sample.
  • pGPSs: The number of statistical matches that became NHL regulars. This is determined by playing 200 NHL games.
  • pGPS%: Simply s divided by n, this is the percentage of statistical matches that successfully became NHL players.
  • pGPS PPG: The NHL points per game of successful matches.
  • pGPS P82: The same as pGPS PPG, but stretched over 82 games.
  • pGPSr: A bit of a hybrid number, this pGPS Rating combines the percentage and points per game to produce a number that includes both likelihood of success and potential upside.

Based on the success of his historical comparables, Kapanen is projected to become a third line forward.

To learn more about the Prospect Graduation Probabilities System, check out this post.

The Eye Test

Like a lot of the forward prospects in the Leafs talent pool, Kapanen is undersized, fast, smart, and dynamic with the puck. He is a very strong skater with a lot of scouts praising his east-west movement in particular. Combine that with his nifty puck skills and you have a player who is very good in tight and in 1-on-1 situations. The common knock on Kapanen is his ability in the defensive zone and getting back to it. He’s a hound in the offensive zone and does anything and everything to get pucks back and win battles, but back on defence he’s more like a house cat in a sunbeam. Of course, that’s a common description for most dynamic scoring wingers anyways so Kapanen isn’t exactly special in that case. Still, it’s an area Kapanen needs to work on to make it at the NHL level. He had a short nine game stint last year where he looked mostly invisible (to be honest, I forgot he played for the Leafs last year).

As Seen on TV

This is likely the biggest moment of Kapanen’s life and the Finnish announcer goes absolutely wild for it. Here’s hoping it’s not the last championship winning goal he scores.

And here’s some highlights of Kapanen. It was very difficult to find a video because it’s apparently not possible for these dudes who make highlight reels to choose anything closely resembling good music. Imagine how bad the rest of them were that “Don’t You Worry Child” by Swedish House Mafia was the best choice. Imagine.

The Buildup

Kapanen bursted on to the scene as a pretty highly touted prospect. He was taken 22nd overall by the Penguins in 2014 in what looked like a bit of a steal as he was rated higher than that by a number of scouting organizations. Perhaps the teams that passed on him knew something the rest of us didn’t as Kapanen’s progression has been a bit slow since he was drafted. He’s gotten better with every passing year, but not as quick as you’d have hoped from a guy with his draft pedigree.

Next Season

Kapanen will likely need another year of seasoning in the AHL where he can build on a decent first campaign. Considering the logjam of NHL bodies up front that shouldn’t be a surprise anyways: he isn’t making the team unless he really earns it and he’s just not ready for that yet as there’s a number of players higher on the pecking order.

Next season will be very telling for his progression. His first season was good, but that’s all you can really say and that might even be a generous assessment. Making an NHL team led by Babcock as a youth has always been a challenge and Kapanen will need to prove he belongs over someone Babcock trusts. His play isn’t there yet and he’ll need to step it up a lot to make it clear he’s the best option available in 2017-18. Whether he’s actually capable of doing so will be an interesting development this season.

Closing Thoughts

Right or wrong, Kapanen will have expectations to live up to in a die-hard market. The expectations that he was the “prize” for Phil Kessel, a player who had his own expectations to live up to. 

Kapanen likely won’t ever be as good as Kessel, but he doesn’t have to be. He’s still a very good prospect who has potential to be a good player for the team in the very near future, just not yet.

The Rankings So Far

  • Muskoka's Own

    It would be interesting to get a comment from Jeff on this ranking, given that he had Kapanen at 15. He’s a good prospect, but he does seem to be inconsistent. I also wish this was written more with an eye to explaining why some people did have him ahead of the likes of Brown and Johnson. Thanks.

  • MigBoron

    I’m really hoping i’m wrong, but so far, other than brief flashes, i haven’t seen anything to indicate top 6 potential. I think he’ll be surpassed by others in the system and end up traded.

  • Muskoka's Own

    I could be in the minority but I’m never going to compare this guy to Phil Kessel.

    I’ve already conceded that Kessel was easily the best player in that trade and we gave him away. But I’m not bitter at all.

    I hope Kapanen can make the Leafs and have an impact though! I watched that Finland goal live (on TV), it was awesome to see him get it.

  • Muskoka's Own

    I think the prize from the Kessel Trade is between the pipes.

    The same way the unknown turned out be Tyler as noted by article.

    just my thoughts…..

    How many more days until pre-season?

  • V

    MY opinion on Kapanen is simple. I’m not comparing him to Kessel because he will never be close to the same kind of player as Kessel. What I see in Kapanen is a constitent (over his career, not game to game) 20 goal, 40-50 points guy who is playing on our third line. I see him getting some powerplay time.

    I think he has a way of finding that 6th gear in high intensity games and will be a killer playoff performer.

    He needs another full year in the AHL though. He will be a nice piece for us, but not one of the “pillars”.

    As for who is better between Brown and him, I think time will tell, but Brown gets a slight edge for me, just on the fact of perseverance, dedication and hard work. He just can’t seem to stop improving.

    I’m thoroughly enjoying the fact that there is such a controversy with the list though. Means we have prospects who can play!!

  • Capt.Jay

    I look at it this way. One prospect may be better than another but that doesn’t mean he’s ready for the NHL over the other. The player who is better may not even be close to reaching their potential yet and therefore needs to get there via the AHL. The other player who isn’t as good may have reached theirs and is a perfect fit for a 3rd or 4th line role.

    Just because you can play in the NHL doesn’t mean you’re ready. Especially if putting them in too early is the difference between a career 30-40 point guy compared to their potential of a 60-70 point one.

    Rychel and Kapennen scare me in the sense they may think they should be in the pro’s already and will mull in the minors where as a player like Brown does whatever is asked and continues to grow to his max potential.

    I have nothing to go by when it comes to Kapennen mulling in the AHL but Rychel has already shown signs.

    I think the Leafs know Kapennen isn’t near his potential yet and are being careful with him.

  • Stan Smith

    I always find it interesting when wingers get criticized for their defensive zone work. It is the wingers job to cover the points. A properly positioned winger is between the play and the opposing dman. They aren’t suppose to be rushing into the corners chasing the puck.

  • Gary Empey

    If you are going to bring the Kessel trade into the discussion then you have to include the 1st round draft pick Toronto acquired. For the first half of the season Pittsburgh was fighting for a playoff spot. It was looking like we were about to have two top picks in the draft. It wasn’t until they changed coaches and switched to a top 9 lineup concept, with elite scoring on 3 lines. that they started to win consistently.

    As Jesse above points out, we were able to use their pick to trade for Andersen.

    As soon as Kapennen gets physically stronger, he will be in the NHL.

  • magesticRAGE

    I think Leaf nation is seriously underrating Kappy’s skills.
    He’s easily the fastest skater on the team, his agility is elite, really quick foot speed and hands, good balance, strong on his skates, creative in the o-zone, has a really good wrister, and possesses a mean streak.
    He has grown in defensive coverage, but seems like he has difficulty doing that alongside providing offense. He is an emotional player, he will be streaky when his confidence dips. Also, because he is a smart winger, he needs to have a like minded center too. He worked very well with Nylander and Hyman, and hopefully could be on Brook’s wing (if they sign him) on the Marlies. He should find his way in the second line, when he puts the pieces together.