Kasperi Kapanen, drafted 22nd overall by Pittsburgh in 2014, is finally realizing his potential playing alongside Auston Matthews.
In an article released a month ago I applied the “eye-test” to Kapanen’s work prior to this season, concluding that Kasperi is fast and he scores goals when they matter. In the small sample size of four games, Kapanen’s athleticism has reaffirmed that conclusion from my prior article.
In four games, Kapanen owns a stellar corsi for percentage of 57% and he’s been promoted to Auston Matthews’ wing, helping Matthews re-establish himself as a dominant goal scorer after Matthews had a relatively quiet playoff series against Boston (while playing injured).
Kapanen fills the gaping hole on Matthews’ wing that Hyman left when he began playing with Tavares. Like Zach, Kasperi also digs pucks out from the boards effectively.
More importantly, Kapanen back checks with a speed and intensity that Ennis can’t match, and head coach Mike Babcock loves that from his role players.
Here’s a breakdown of the first four games of Kapanen’s 2018/19 season:
Kapanen started the season on the 4th line centred by Toronto Maple Leafs newcomer Par Lindholm with rookie Andreas Johnsson on the left wing.
The trio performed like a fourth line is expected too; they didn’t let the other team score, however, they also didn’t score anything themselves.
This game, a 4-3 overtime victory for Toronto, was uneventful for the 4th line.
Kapanen played 11:04.
Another quiet game from Kapanen (12:31 time on ice) and the Leafs bottom 6 more generally.
The significance of this game is that the 5-3 loss the Leafs suffered against the Ottawa Senators spurred thoughts in Babcock’s mind that a shakeup of the line ups was necessary.
Thankfully, Babcock got the blender out and mixed his lines up for game three.
In the first period of game three against the Chicago Blackhawks, the Leafs were down two goals and Babcock was desperate for a solution. This is when the magic started.
Babcock yielded to criticism, and switched Ennis and Kapanen. Then Matthews and Kapanen connected for a goal each, spaced 34 seconds apart.
The flip pass Matthews put on Kapanen’s stick to get the Leafs back within one goal was a thing of beauty. This was a textbook example of Kapanen scoring big goals when they matter.
My Grandpa and I almost spilled our Thanksgiving mashed potatoes when Matthews connected for a goal of his own half a minute later to tie the game.
Matthews walked away from this game with four points (two goals, two assists); Kapanen with two points (one goal and one assist), and the first multi-point game of his career played 14:59.
The magic continued in game four against Dallas when Kapanen earned two points (both assists) on route to the Leafs 7-4 win.
Back-to-back multi-point games is significant for a player like Kapanen who hasn’t played a full season with the Leafs yet. Moreover, it was nice seeing him play 16:44, as that was some of highest ice time he’s got in his career.
Game four continued to solidify that Kapanen is a better fit on Matthews right wing than Ennis.
Kasperi needs skilled playmakers and finishers on his line if he’s going to optimally utilize his speed and reach his true potential.
In four games played, Kapenen has four points and Ennis only has one, both forwards have played two games with Auston Matthews.
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Matthews had his first four point game since October 12, 2016 with Kapanen on his wing.
The eye-test tells me that these two players bring out the best in each other. It will be interesting to see how the chemistry between them grows or tapers off as they mature into better hockey players (both are under age 24 and no where near their athletic prime).
One thing I am curious about though: How does this affect William Nylander if/when he re-signs with the Toronto Maple Leafs?
Willy isn’t just going to fly here from Europe and usurp Kapanen from the top 6 if merit doesn’t warrant it.
The longer it takes for Nylander to re-sign the harder it’s going to be to split Kapanen and Matthews up. Especially if if the chemistry between them continues to produce goals at the rate it currently is.
In two games played together: Matthews has six points; Kasperi has four points.
The pair are scoring at 2.5 points per game and 2.0 points per game respectively. They may surprise us all and prove to be more effective together than Tavares and Marner.
When Nylander returns (at this point I still think he’ll be back soon), don’t be surprised if there isn’t a spot on Matthews’ available for him anymore.
Nylander will probably play with kadri when he comes back (which is good, because Kadri needs an offensive jump start). It is also a realistic possibility that Marleau will be the odd man out and we may soon see a Nylander / Matthews / Kapanen line.
That would be a nice compliment to Toronto’s all GTA line up of Hyman / Tavares / Marner. I’d call it our international line because it would feature 1st round picks from Finland, Sweden, and the USA.
Thanks for reading!
stats from natualstattrick.com