Toronto Maple Leafs: Kasperi Kapanen Officially a First-Line Forward

BRIDGEPORT, CT - JANUARY 21: Kasperi Kapanen
BRIDGEPORT, CT - JANUARY 21: Kasperi Kapanen /

The Toronto Maple Leafs are not deep at the wing.

This sort of goes contrary to popular opinion, but the fact is, with Andreas Johnsson yet to grab a permanent job, with Patrick Marleau in a clear decline, Zach Hyman being offensively inept, Connor Brown unable to live up to the promise he showed as a 20 goal rookie, and the team in need of a defensively elite winger, the Toronto Maple Leafs do have a weakness on the wing.

I don’t think Par Lindholm and Connor Brown are very good wingers for Nazem Kadri. I would very much like to see Kadri playing with a Johnsson/Leivo combo, but today I am here to talk about the top six.  Specifically Kasperi Kapanen and how he has become a real, honest to god, first line player.

Assuming a healthy and fully signed lineup, the Leafs top two lines are centred by Auston Matthews and John Tavares.   On the wing, you have William Nylander and Mitch Marner – two of the NHL’s best.  The other two spots, coming into the season, were assumed to go to Marleau and Zach Hyman – but it’s clear that the team needs to upgrade both those spots.

Hyman is a nice player, but he’s miscast so high in the lineup.  Currently a 48% player with only one goal (and a really lucky one at that) all you have to do is watch one Bruins game to see what a lineup with three first liners looks like.  As much as I appreciate the tenacity and puck-retrieval game of Hyman, it can’t compensate for someone who could score 60-80 points on a line with two of the players in the NHL.

As for Marleau, if you think he’s still worthy of a top six role, you’re either related to him or haven’t seen a game this year.

Kasperi Kapanen

I thought that the Leafs were going to need two additional top six wingers, but Kasperi Kapanen is clearly a top six winger.  His speed is gamebreaking and he’s clearly got the talent to score 30 goals while also being fairly decent defensively. He can’t replace Nylander (he’s not that good) but he is clearly a first liner.

If there is one thing we have learned so far this season, it’s that Kasperi Kapanen is a top line forward.  He may have to switch to left-wing once Nylander is back, but Kapanen should remain on the top line where his speed helps give Auston Matthews room to operate.

What I especially like is that since Auston Matthews’ injury, Kapanen’s Corsi-For has actually gone up, proving his success was not just a function of being paired with Matthews.  (Note that Hyman and Ennis didn’t become top liner scorers playing with Matthews, so that narrative was always silly).

So far this year Kapanen has a 52% possession rating to go along with six goals and 12 points in 14 games.  For some reason he only has 4:00 of power-play ice-time so far this season . This means that not only should we question Babcock’s sanity, but also that Kapanen is even better than these stats suggest.

All of his points are at 5v5, where he leads the team.  In fact, five of his six assists are first assists, meaning there’s no cheese-points here.

Kapanen is second in the league to Mikko Rantanen in 5v5 points/60 meaning that, per minute of ice-time, he’s the second highest scoring 5v5 player in the NHL.  OK, he’s not going to keep that up, but the fact is, he’s not just getting luck either.

dark. Next. Are the Habs Any Good?

Perhaps the holdout of Nylander is a good thing – it proved the Toronto Maple Leafs have at least one top six winger they didn’t now about.

Now all they gotta do is upgrade on Hyman and sign Nylander and the Toronto Maple Leafs will have the most dangerous top-six in the NHL, if they don’t already.