Few prospects have been talked about as often as Kasperi Kapanen since he was acquired by Toronto – perhaps as the key piece – in a blockbuster trade that landed Pittsburgh all-star winger Phil Kessel.
Kapanen’s name has been dragged through the mud quite a bit over the last little while and there’s this running narrative that he’s a regressing prospect, which is simply not true.
Kapanen was 4th on Kalpa in goals last season with 11 in 41 games. He did that as an 18-year-old and he played at least 15 games less than the three teammates who finished ahead of him with 15, 17, and 18 goals respectively.
The former 22nd overall pick was 6th on his team in points with 21, however, he finished 2nd on his team in points per game (.51) and the club leader in that regard is 28 years old. By all accounts Kapanen had a solid year in Finland.
That continued after he came overseas, too, as he had two points in four regular season games with Wilkes Barre/Scranton at the end of the AHL season and followed that up with five points in seven playoff games.
Those are pretty impressive totals for an 18-year-old getting his first taste of pro hockey in North America.
So why is there all this talk about a down season and him regressing as a prospect?
Most people will tell you it’s because of his play at the World Junior tournament where he scored just once and didn’t register an assist in five games with Finland.
He was criticized for his play throughout that two week window and the World Juniors are what a lot of people use as ammunition when questioning Kapanen’s legitimacy as a high-end prospect.
With that in mind I decided to re-watch Kapanen’s five games at the World Juniors and track his numbers to see if he did play as poorly as many suggest. The numbers say that was not the case.
World Junior Numbers
A few thoughts on those numbers:
– Kapanen may not have produced much in terms of points but it wasn’t because he was playing poorly or chasing play in his own zone. Finland generated 56% of all shot attempts at even-strength with him on the ice during their five-game run. The teams Finland went up against: Canada, USA, Slovakia, Sweden and Germany. The Germans were a poor team but beyond them Kapanen was facing some pretty stiff competition.
– Kapanen started shifts in the offensive zone more often than his own zone but it wasn’t as if he was spoon fed OZ starts. If you include NZ starts 42 of 62 zone starts came outside of the offensive zone. He wasn’t always put in positions to create offense immediately and he had to do some driving.
– He was very good through the neutral zone gaining the line with possession 18 times in 23 attempts. He struggled against the Americans (0-for-3) but overall had an excellent tournament in that regard.
– After singling out Kapanen every shift for a handful of games I have no reservations about his ability to become a top-6 forward. Time will tell if he develops into one but the talent is certainly there.
– He’s not a big guy at 6’0″ and ~180 pounds but he’s not afraid to throw his weight around. He has some feistiness in his game and connected on a few pretty big hits.
– You’ll see it some of the vines below but Kapanen is very elusive in space and he’s crafty with the puck. Combine that with his high-end speed and he’s a tough guy to stop.
– Kapanen loves to work from just outside the hashmark on the left side. He setup some nice chances from there — particularly on the man advantage.
– He’s a bit of a puck hound. He can be relentless after it on the forecheck and he often comes back pretty hard on the back check. I think that’s an underrated aspect of his game.
Kapanen wasn’t dominant at the World Juniors but he was definitely a lot better than most give him credit for. Even if he was terrible, how does five bad games outweigh a season full of good ones?
Like with pretty much any prospect there are no guarantees that he will be an impact player at the NHL level. In saying that there is certainly reason to be optimistic about his future.
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