Photo Credit: Kevin Hoffman / USA TODAY Sports

If young AHL scorers are a dime a dozen, I would like to give you many of my dimes

Yesterday, Mark Roe, Craig Button, and Patrick O’Sullivan hosted Leafs Lunch, and a topic on their mind was recent call-up Kasperi Kapanen. Specifically, they talked about his upside, and the value of the American Hockey League as a developmental league. Below is a transcript, with a few of my thoughts interjected throughout.

For those who didn’t get the chance to watch, Kapanen played 11:38, took two shots on goal, threw two hits, blocked a shot and drew a penalty while posting a 57% Shot Attempts For at even strength.

Mark Roe: …Kasperi Kapanen, who will make his season debut tonight for the Leafs. Right now slotted to play on the fourth line. Here’s Mike Babcock, and I’m going to read some of his quotes from yesterday about Kapanen. “He’ll make Boyle and Martin way quicker. There’s no-one on our team that’s as quick as him. He’ll help us on the forecheck, real good on the penalty kill.” Let’s not put the bar up too high for him at this point, Craig, but Kasperi Kapanen, who’s essentially a point per game player in the AHL, he was out for about seven weeks, I want to say, with an injury. How would you classify him as a prospect with the Leafs right now?

Here’s our pre-season prospect profile, and here’s my update on him in December.

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Craig Button: “B” prospect. I don’t think he’s shown the consistency in his game to merit full-time NHL duty. It’s a big area that he’s got to work on. He can skate, when he’s on his game, his skating becomes a factor, but he’s inconsistent. He goes through long stretches of unproductive, indifferent play. He cannot have long stretches of indifferent and unproductive play. So that’s something that’s part of the maturing process, for Kasperi Kapanen. I’ll be real straight with you. A point a game in the AHL means nothing to me.

Every point-per-game 19-year-old AHLer in the Cap Era, and where they are this year and career-wise. Weird.

Patrick O’Sullivan: I said that yesterday!

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Not shocking that O’Sullivan did so. Patrick is the only player under 21 on the list that’s retired today. His assumptions are likely based on his own experience as a young player, despite 2005/06 being a higher scoring season and the fact he was the third highest scorer on a loaded line with two veterans.

Craig Button: It means nothing to me. You know what? Dime a dozen. Point-a-game guys in the Amer- top point producers in the American League? Dime a dozen.

Starting to fall off a little here with the Age 21 list, but you’re still finding a lot of quality NHLers on this list. Hall, Krejci, OEL, Stone are just some of the few that made it real big.

Roe: So what would you want to see from Kasp-

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Button: Consistency in his effort. Consistency in his purpose. He drifts. He gets into areas of the game and he becomes highly unproductive because he doesn’t know what to do. 

Kapanen’s fewest points in a five-game stretch? Two. Fewest in ten? six. Fewest in 20? Seventeen. Longest points drought? Two games.

Button: He’s gotta figure out what his game is. He’s been an offensive player coming up, he’s not going to be an offensive player in the NHL, in my view. Mike Babcock’s g-I think he’s in a good spot, playing in that part of the lineup. He not playing ahead of Marner! He not gonna play ahead of, uhh…

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Sadly, TSN.ca is kinda tricky to find older stuff on.

O’Sullivan: Nylander,

Button: Nylander! Like for.. so, you better figure out how to be a good, uhh, winger, winger, behind those two guys. You better, and he’s not better than Connor Brown. So he better figure out how to be a player. Simple as that.

Not sure why Button doesn’t think he’s going to be unable to surpass a couple of players that were worse than a dime a dozen for much of their AHL careers. Though, obviously, it would take something massive for him to catch up to Willie, and Breeze isn’t a total slouch either.

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O’Sullivan: That sums it up.

Roe: Patrick’s just nodding at me going “Yup, yup, I like that”

Button: Well, if I hear one more time “point a game player in the American Hockey League”, like, I might just vomit. Like seriously, it means nothing. 

Even if we get to the third year of CHLer eligibility for the AHL and fifth year for others, you’re still finding some long-term NHLers, some legitimate studs, and that literally every young point a game AHLer in the past decade has gotten their cup of coffee. Back to the studs. Eberle! Pacioretty! Johnson! Jultz! Goose! By the way, Brendan Leipsic’s about to join this list.

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O’Sullivan: It’s not a good league, the American League.

Button: Go look at who the top scorers in the league are!

O’Sullivan: It doesn’t.. yeah, it doesn’t.. I mean..

Like most pro leagues used for development of graduated prospects, the top will often be filled with older players who sit on the bubble. That doesn’t make them bad players; in many cases, they’d likely be more useful than grinders who can’t score at all in the NHL.

As for why the list isn’t usually topped by high-scoring kids? They usually get called up before they can get to 76 games. William Nylander was on pace to run away with last year’s scoring title if it weren’t for the World Juniors, an injury in said tournament, and a call-up to the Leafs.

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Roe: Would you have rather seen Leipsic get the chance?

Button: No, I don’t think Leipsic’s an NHL player either!

Guentzel’s putting together a hell of a year since being called up; he’s got 25 points in 35 games.

O’Sullivan: At least this guy, if he wants to, or he’s capable of, he can play on the fourth line for eight minutes, because he can skate. If he wants to play physical, and he wants to put the effort in, he can play that role. Leipsic? No chance.

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Button: I totally agree with that.

Besides the eye-test clearly showing that Brendan Leipsic is capable of skating (he’s arguably the best Marlies player at carrying the puck), a look at least year’s numbers show that Leipsic was blocking more shots during his call-up than any regular forward was (4.24 blocks per hour played), and throwing more hits than all but two regular forwards (8.47 hits per hour, trailing Colin Greening and Leo Komarov). Leipsic, despite being a little guy, wasn’t scared to play physical or put in effort.

Roe: But is he a guy that frustrates you because his ceiling is so much higher due to the talent?

Button: Well, what is his ceiling? I hear about ceiling. Kasperi Kapanen, okay, is an inconsistent player. And through his inconsistency, he becomes highly unproductive. So what is his ceiling? To try to be consistent? Wow. Isn’t that what you have to be, to be a good NHL player?

Last year’s playing field may have been a bit skewed, though: one got to be “the guy”, the other played on a roster full of this year’s Leafs and AAAA vets. I’m gonna let the clock tick on this a little, though, even if I think Rantanen’s likely going to be the point scorer of the two long term for much of the same reason.

O’Sullivan: I think maybe, Mark, is the better question “Because he was drafted in the first round, people think that maybe he can be something.. ” I think at this point, a lot of people think he won’t be.

As it stands, Kapanen sits 30th in games played among players in the 2014 NHL draft. Sixteen of the 29 players above him have spent a chunk of time in the AHL this year. Fourteen of them are clearly worse than a dime a dozen, since Kapanen has a higher points per game than them. Only five of the fifteen full-time NHLers above him were picked below him; Brayden Point (79), Nikita Tryamkin (66), Christian Dvorak (58), Viktor Arvidsson (114), and David Pastrnak (25). Kapanen is the youngest of those five players, and most weren’t close to his selection range.

So, unless the point here is that Penguins should’ve picked Pastrnak, I don’t think we’re at the “Kapanen’s a failed draft pick” stage yet.

Roe: And let’s not forget that he’s part of the Phil Kessel trade as well. 

Don’t worry. Nobody will ever let that be forgotten.

Roe: So you automatically think, if he’s part of a superstar going one way, you’re hoping to get at least a consistent NHL player coming back. Listening to you guys, the jury’s still out on that.

O’Sullivan: He played nine games last year, of the twenty at the end. Zero points. It looked to me this year in camp that he thought he was going to be on the team. This is a guy with nine games, and he’s done nothing in his career to think that. So, I mean, that’s all part of “What are you? What are you going to be? Can you do anything to make sure that you stay in this league every day?”

Button: That’s the key for him, so, they key is that he’s got to start with consistency. I call it constancy of purpose and consistency of effort. That’s what he’s gotta do. He’s gotta have a purpose to his game, and he’s gotta have a consistency to his effort. And if he does, then he might be because he can skate, and he’s got some physical capabilities, he can. But he hasn’t shown that.

O’Sullivan: Here’s the other thing too. They were grabbing guys off waivers left and right this year. So that means, was there any urgency at any point to get this guy up and playing? They wanted to see him do something better, do something differently in the American League, they weren’t even considering him.

At a certain point, I think the team backs away from rushing their prospect, especially when they’re having their first dominant professional year and really chipping away at learning the building blocks of their game. I think it’s possible to concede that a player has rounded out issues from previous parts of their career as they do it; a key part of objective analysis is evolving your conclusions as evidence changes.

What they’re doing here is doubling down, going with “if he’s so good, why wasn’t he called up sooner?”, and using talking points haven’t really applied to his game since the last time either of them showed up in the press box at a Marlies home game (Read: sometime early last season for Button, never for O’Sullivan.).

Roe: The injuries don’t help either. 

Button: Before the injury he was a point-a-game player. He was a point-a-game player earlier in the year, and they didn’t call him up. The injury, the injury happened in the new year, and he was rolling along pretty good points wise. But they didn’t call him up at any point before the new year. 

The Leafs also didn’t really have winger spots for much of the year. Their first and only call-up on the wing prior to this week was Nikita Soshnikov on November 1st, and the team was consistently treading the line on maximum roster size.

O’Sullivan: At the end of the day, he’s got a lot to prove to a lot of different people. His career is on the line.

O’Sullivan: This is another chance for him to play games that actually matter for his team, and show what he can do.

Way ahead of you. Looks like he had a good debut, too.

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  • spartigas

    2 things
    1) There is a strong reason Button isn’t employed in the NHL anymore
    2) TSN has become a rag, it’s becoming The Sun and unbearable to follow outside of BobMac

    • The Russian Rocket

      Remember when Button compared Pierre-Luc-Dubois to Jamie Benn and rushed him up the draft rankings last year? Then PLD opened the season in the QMJHL with 18pts in 20 games?

      He’s gotten better since then but Button praised the kid like he was the second coming. I really question his ‘scouting ability’.

    • Motorcitysmitty

      Just sour grapes from a guy that couldn’t cut it and has to sit around talking about the game for a fraction of the coin he’d be making if he’d lived up to his own potential

  • Glen

    TSN is way behind sportsnet in the ratings war and the reason becomes obvious if you listen to their work. They employ a lot of washed up players, people like O’Sullivan and O’Neil who were lazy headcases that had their careers end early. It bugs me when guys like that are critical of young players like Nylander for not playing a 200 ft game when they never accomplished that in their entire careers. I do listen to some of their podcasts because they do have a lot of Leaf news. Thanks to Jeff for presenting a well thought out argument on the views that they presented.

  • getrdone

    Just noise from the talking heads, I mean how else are they going to fill an hour? We can’t at this point gush over Kapanen so, the alternative for a talk show is to tear him down.

    • The Russian Rocket

      It’s weird that they couldn’t just give the options: he has amazing speed, a great shot and good offensive instinct BUT he hasn’t made the jump yet which means his ceiling could be lower than some anticipated. That’s it. Two sides of the spectrum – hell you could explore them both and fill more air time.

  • Gary Empey

    They should of had Jeff Veillette Harte of a Lion or Sheldon Keefe on the broadcast. Having people who never watch the games discus the AHL is a recipe for misinformation.

    • Harte of a Lion

      Gary, this year I have only watched or listened to around 40 Marlies games and unfortunately due to my health, have only attended 6 Marlies games. (shame on me)
      My opinion on Kapanen is as follows…
      Kapanen has played well this season from opening day. He has slowly developed his awareness in all three zones and his explosive skating allows him to be first on the forechecking while still being able to recover and be back to break up plays in the neutral zone. His increase in both strength and body mass allows him to be competitive on the boards and in the corners and Keefe has rewarded him appropriately. He plays on the first pk unit and never shies away from blocking shots. Due to his effortless skating he might appear to occasionally coast (Kessel) however three strides and he can be at full speed.
      Overall I think Kapanen slots in as a 3rd line winger who can put up 40 points (20/20) with the ability to play up in the lineup and be a dominant force on both the power play with his elite skill set (passing and stickhandling in a phone booth plus his shot is elite) and the penalty kill.
      Not every player develops at the same pace, both on the ice and their maturity. I can even see Kasperi replacing Nylander on Matthews wing once Willy moves to centre.
      O’Sullivan is a bitter crone who pissed away his career through his immaturity and partying and anything that comes out of his mouth can be considered verbal diarrhoea. I would expect better from Button however TSN expects listenership and clicks on their website. (See Chelios/Babcock)
      Kapanen will make both eat their words. If he doesn’t make the Leafs next season, he will put up 80 points for the Marlies should he stay healthy. I’ll bet a pile of rusty and mouldy Buttons that he will be on Matthews right side to begin the 2018/19 season while the Leafs march on to their first cup since 1967.
      There is also the option for the Leafs to dress four fast scoring lines as a few more Marlies or players in the system (Johnsson/Leipsic/Timashov/Brooks/Gründstrom/Bracco/Korshkov etc.) mature and make the big club.
      Lastly, Nielsen has developed well this past season and might turn a few heads at next years camp. If he can work on his accuracy with his howitzer from the point, he has potential to anchor one of the pp units. Think of a young Phaneuf, Dermott has a better overall game and often played his off side. His shot isn’t as hard as Nielsen but he has the ability to get low shots on net leading to plenty of rebounds.
      Out of the three hulking defencemen selected in 2016, Middleton, Greenway and Mattinen, I believe Middleton has made the largest improvement. He plays in every situation, and nearly singlehandedly carried Saginaw to the post season. If he continues to progress (difficult to predict how a 6’5 234 lb teen learns to use his body while it continues to grow) he may be the steal of the later rounds for my beloved Maple Leafs. His skating has improved tenfold and his composure under pressure is impressive. He usually makes short quick passes as long as his forwards come back to support him while his ability to skate the puck from his zone is vastly improved. He needs to work with Barb Underhill to improve his quickness while skating from a stop however one he gets going, he can fly for a player of his size.
      Thank you Mark Hunter and as far as Buttons and O’Sullivan, both can suck Buttons!

      • Espo

        Still thinking if Nylander gets moved to C next season, reuniting him with Kap (and maybe Hyman?) as the new “third line”.
        Frees up Marner for the wing on the Matthews line, Kadri line stays more or less the same (expansion draft pending)

        • Harte of a Lion

          Esposito, I doubt you will ever see Matthews/Marner together (I have been known to be occasionally wrong). Both are capable of driving a line so there is really no need. The only reason Willy skates with Matthews is Babcock has been easing him into the league before he moves to centre. One day Marner could move to centre as he played there quite often in his pre and draft years however he has the ability to become one of the elite wingers in the NHL. His elite vision, defensive awareness and ability to skate the puck and make plays helps his linemates produce. With the Leafs current depth at centre , Matthews, Kadri, Bozak and Boyle, there is no need for Mitch to slot into a centre position in the foreseeable future however having a winger with the abilities of a great playmaking centre only adds to the team.
          I understand that plus/minus is a bs stat that doesn’t truly represent a player however if you check Bozak and JVR’s history, Marner has helped both improve dramatically from their historical levels.
          (JVR was +2 last season however I believe that to be an outlier) with Kessel both produced offensively yet their defence as a forward group was always atrocious. Their improvement this season is the “Marner effect”

  • Gary Empey

    The only thing I can think of that is “a dime a dozen” these days is broadcasters/journalists who know very little about hockey. Mind you I do remember when one could get a dozen corn for a dime in Ontario.

  • Stan Smith

    While I wouldn’t say that being a point a game player means nothing, it does not guarantee success in the NHL. As you can see looking at the charts there is as many misses as there are hits when those players enter the NHL. Some player’s game just don’t translate well from the AHL to the NHL. Some players have simply peaked in the AHL, while other continue to grow, and learn. While overstated, and maybe outright flogged to death, I think the point being made was exactly that just because you are a successful AHL player, it doesn’t necessarily mean you will be a successful NHLer.

  • TorontoSportsFanatic

    Please repost this article on the main page ! I remembered reading this at the time and thinking it was a fantastic article. I’ll give you a dime for a 25% chance at Logan Couture, Bobby Ryan, David Krejci or Claude Giroux. Sure, it might buy me a BUST like Patrick O’Sullivan, but I’ll gladly take that bet every day.

    I’m just glad that the idiots that report on Leafs hockey don’t operate the Leafs.

  • MartinPolak

    Most of this analysis is solid. But I would like to point out you are biasing your data (binning or pre-processing is what the statistical nerds like to say) because Button never said <21 year old PPG AHLers are a dime a dozen (at least I can't find that written above in your quotes). Yet you are only selecting those players that fit the age bracket and thereby missing out guys like Leipsic, Landers, Agostino etc to more fairly argue the point.

    Your conclusion is still accurate regarding Kapanen but I think you are being unfair your analysis by cherry picking only 21. Good stuff. I liked it but you haven't really answered PPG AHL players satisfactorily

    • Espo

      except by making the initial statements about Kapanen they’re allowing for a counter argument of “gee young players that avg 1+ P/G tend to work out pretty good actually”