The Pittsburgh Penguins have been delighted with the play and success that their offseason acquisition Kasperi Kapanen has displayed throughout his first year with the team. The right-winger was acquired on August 25th, 2020 from the Toronto Maple Leafs, and has seven goals and ten assists through 21 games thus far. His road to his first game with the team was an interesting one, but is looking more and more like a match made in heaven.
The World Junior Gold Medalists father, Sami Kapanen was a reliable winger in the NHL, scoring 458 points through 831 career games spent with the Hartford Whalers, Carolina Hurricanes, and Philadelphia Flyers. The now 47-year-old’s career-high in points came in the 2001-02 season where he had 69 points in 77 games. Although his son has yet to surpass a 50 point season, his growth and development has been very evident throughout his first year in Pittsburgh.
Originally drafted by the Pens in the first round (22nd Overall) in the 2014 NHL Entry Draft, he was traded on July 1st, 2015 before appearing in a game with the team. The trade brought Phil Kessel, Tim Erixon, Tyler Biggs, and a conditional second-round pick (Kasper Bjorkvist) to the Pens from the Leafs in exchange for Kapanen, Scott Harrington, Nick Spaling, and first-round pick (Sam Steel), and a third-round pick (JD Greenway), which were both later traded away by the Leafs.
For the better half of the next two seasons, the Finnish-forward split time between the NHL and AHL, failing to make an impression at the NHL level although playing on the bottom two lines. In the 2017-18 season, after tallying 24 points through the Marlies’ first 28 games, he received a call-up and became a full-time player with the Leafs, scoring nine points in 38 games. The following year, the 24-year-old notched his career-high in points scoring 20 goals and adding 24 assists in 78 games. In the 2019-20 season, the Kuopio-native had 36 points in 69 games before the season’s abrupt ending, his last as a member of the Maple Leafs. Throughout his tenure with the Maple Leafs, the speedy winger struggled to win himself a spot in a top-six role, and often found himself on the lower half of the depth chart. Perhaps if the Leafs decided to give the forward a bigger role and opportunity to prove himself, he may still be with that organization.
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Nonetheless, the Leafs surplus of skilled forwards and salary cap struggles saw Kapanen as the odd-man-out, and during the offseason, was traded back to the team that originally drafted him, alongside Jesper Lindgren and Pontus Aberg, in exchange for David Warsofsky, Filip Hallander, Evan Rodrigues, and a first-round pick (Rodion Amirov) in the 2020 draft. The six-foot-one forward expressed his excitement in re-joining the team that drafted him and was motivated to get his opportunity with the Pens.
To say he has made the most of his opportunity with the Penguins thus far is a bit of an understatement considering he has only appeared in 21 games this season, several of which began on the team’s bottom-six forward positions. Through injuries and roster shake-ups, he has found his way into the team’s top-six alongside Evgeni Malkin and solidified his role there, sitting fifth in points among Pens forwards. His speed, puck control, passing, and grit on the ice has turned him into a very useful player for the team, and by far their best offseason acquisition.
As he continues to settle in with the Pens, he continues to exhibit his confidence and prove why he was highly-rated as a top-six forward in the NHL. If his skill and success continue to flourish, the forward may begin to challenge his father for best Kapanen to appear in the league. His contract carries a cap hit of $3.2 million dollars over the next two seasons, at which point he will be an expiring RFA.
The forward has been red-hot in the Pens recent games and will look to continue his great form Thursday night when the team takes on the struggling Buffalo Sabres at 7 PM EST at the KeyBank Center.