Penguins coach says Kapanen could crack opening night lineup

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We’re not that far from the beginning of the 2014-15 season, and it doesn’t appear that the Pittsburgh Penguins are any less impressed with 2014 first-rounder Kasperi Kapanen.

New head coach Mike Johnston said that the 22nd pick of this year’s draft has a solid chance of playing in the team’s season opener on Oct. 9. The original plan was for the 18-year-old to skate with Sidney Crosby and Pascal Dupuis against the Columbus Blue Jackets today, but that didn’t work out for reasons beyond Kapanen’s control.

That didn’t stop Kapanen from finding the net against Columbus, as you can see in these full highlights:

The team’s shown a pattern of being quite excited about the skilled son of former NHL forward Sami Kapanen.

Days after he fell to them in the first round, the Penguins professed a belief that he might make the team right away. Bill Guerin provided rave reviews about his skill after seeing him early on, too.

The real testament will be if the Penguins believe that he’s ready for a full season of work. Pittsburgh can trot him out for up to nine regular season contests before “burning” the first year of his entry-level contract. They haven’t been shy about doing that in the past; Sidney Crosby and Jordan Staal made immediate leaps while Evgeni Malkin and Olli Maatta were key players one season removed from their draft years.

With Beau Bennett out for about six weeks, it makes that much more sense for Kapanen to get an extended look. Perhaps he’ll play so well that they won’t be able to resist keeping him around?