From prospect to projected full-time pro, Kasperi Kapanen has made substantial strides since first coming over to the Leafs in the summer of 2015 as a key piece in the Phil Kessel trade.
The 22-year old forward appeared in 38 regular season games for the Leafs last season; a byproduct of a brief call-up in late 2017 and a second call in January of 2018 which would appear to be his last. Kappy stuck with the big club from there on out, tallying 7 goals and 2 assists in a limited role largely spent on the Leafs’ fourth line.
Last Season At A Glance
I previously examined Kapanen’s 2017-18 campaign in greater detail earlier this offseason, but let’s take another dive into his resume.
|Kapanen With||TOI With||TOI Without||Player CF% With||Kapanen CF% Without||Player CF% Without Kapanen|
Relative to his most frequent linemates, Kapanen’s possession numbers were clearly a driving force during his time on the Leafs’ fourth line. Through half a season largely stapled to Dominic Moore and Leo Komarov, Kapanen fairly consistently made his linemates better, and led to the Leafs’ fourth line performing at a significantly more reliable click than when Matt Martin was a lineup mainstay.
Former Leaf Leo Komarov clearly fared better while playing with Kapanen, carrying an abysmal 39.05 CF% without Kappy by his side. With Kappy, that number jumps up to a better – but still rather pedestrian – 49.76.
The duo of Moore and Kapanen performed well together possession-wise; they were a positive depth force for the team, and largely seemed to help each other perform at a high calibre, with Kapanen’s possession numbers taking a fairly substantial hit during his time without Moore as well (albeit sample size and limited variation in linemates makes this a difficult conclusion to arrive at full-stop).
Speaking of small sample sizes, it felt cheap to include Andreas Johnsson at the bottom of this graph – the drop off in time spent with Johnsson after even Tomas Plekanec is steep – but the two up and coming Leaf forwards looked dangerous and exciting together, and had no difficulty driving the play when sharing ice time.
The tale of Kasperi Kapanen’s upcoming season will likely go one of two ways. On one timeline, Kapanen performs well enough either in training camp or in the early going of the season to steal a spot on the third-line wing next to Johnsson and Nazem Kadri. On another, the tie goes to the “veteran”, and Connor Brown assumes that spot, while Kapanen returns to rotations on the fourth line once again.
A season in which Kapanen spends a great deal of time with a talented centreman like Kadri will likely work wonders for Kappy’s potential moving forward. Despite having clearly outgrown the AHL, his NHL time has been largely spent as a depth cog in a stacked lineup. With the recent departures of JVR and Leo Komarov, however, Kapanen would be wise to seize this opportunity as a chance to fully make his name known at the NHL level.
Kapanen’s speed and defensive game will make him a valuable piece on Kadri’s shutdown line for the Leafs. While he’s been known to have difficulty finishing, a season spent with more talented lineups could allow for Kapanen to not only find his groove as a more consistent goal scorer, but may also help him get his assist numbers up. With 2 assists through 55 NHL games, Kapanen’s numbers are much more a testament to the lack of talent alongside him than of his own potential in the big leagues.
Of course, there is also the aforementioned scenario in which Kappy is relegated to the fourth line once again this season. Regardless, a more talented cast of Tyler Ennis and Par Lindholm on his line may still allow for Kapanen to make some noise in another limited role. Either way, expect Kapanen to be a more-than-adequate replacement for Leo Komarov on the penalty kill, and definitely look for some beautiful short-handed opportunities as a result of Kapanen’s opportunistic nature and supreme speed.
Kasperi Kapanen is good, and he’s likely here to stay this season. Get excited.