Now that the Toronto Marlies have returned to their usual spot of being the last Toronto team in the Leafs organization standing, it’s time for them to get reinforced as they shoot their Calder Cup shot. While the pipe dreams of adding the waiver exempt NHL rookies to the mix was never going to happen, the AHL affiliate will get back one of its star players in Kasperi Kapanen.
Kapanen was originally recalled from the Leafs on March 27th, as a nuclear option of sorts after Nikita Soshnikov, Josh Leivo, and Eric Fehr all suffered injuries in the same fourth-line right wing spot. While the situation wasn’t totally planned, it worked out extremely well for all parties; Kapanen got to shut down some of the skepticism still attached to his style of play, and the Leafs got a player that finally, along with deadline acquisition Brian Boyle pushed their bottom line into “hang with the big boys” territory. Kapanen’s always-present explosive speed, his ever-improving hands and defensive awareness, and his newfound tenacity around the boards gave the Leafs a line that could not only kill time with their forechecking ability, but could occasionally even convert that into their own opportunities.
Kapanen finished his stint with the Leafs with three goals in 14 games; not an incredibly brilliant rate of production, but solid enough given his rookie status, the role of the line, and the fact that two of those three goals probably rank in the top 10 of the most important Leafs goals in the past 10 years.
Kapanen’s return to the Marlies would give them a first-line talent at the AHL level at a time where they could really stand to get an offensive boost, as they’re currently tied 1-1 with the Albany Devils in a Best-of-5 series. In five of his last six games, Kapanen was a right winger on a line with Brendan Leipsic and Colin Greening. It’s difficult to say for sure whether that will be a line that gets reunited, though, given that those two mates have been on separate lines during the post season.
In 43 games with the Marlies this year, the 20-year-old Kapanen put up 43 points (18G, 25A). Presently, he appears to be set to be the only Leafs player that will head down for Calder Cup action; white Nikita Soshnikov is also eligible, he’s still recovering from an upper-body injury and it’s likely that he’ll be left to rest, unless he gets all the way back to 100% and the Marlies run short of forward.
Kapanen’s return will likely come tonight, as the Marlies make their home playoff debut against the Devils at Ricoh Coliseum.