Acquired in Kessel trade, Kapanen ready for first Leafs camp

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In Toronto, the focus is on the future after a summer of major changes, including trading Phil Kessel, marked the start of a new era that will require a building process. Leafs fans might not get as many glimpses of that future this season as the team is projected to still feature a prominently veteran cast, but one exception to that might be Kasperi Kapanen.

The 19-year-old forward was the centerpiece of the Pittsburgh Penguins’ package to pry Kessel away from Toronto, so it would certainly be a nice storyline if he establishes himself with the Maple Leafs this season.

“I was so close last year, and now I feel a lot better,” Kapanen told the Toronto Star. “I know what training camp is all about now.

He added, “I’m going to do everything I can to try to earn a spot. I know I’ll have a lot of good years with this team. I’m excited for the future.”

Kapanen had 11 goals and 21 points in 41 games with KalPa of the Finnish league last season. He does have some North American experience as he wrapped up the 2014-15 campaign with the AHL’s Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins, scoring three goals and five points in seven playoff contests. Even still, he might benefit from spending more time adjusting to North American hockey and honing his skills in the minors.

Toronto has 14 forwards inked to one-way contracts, although that includes Nathan Horton, who will probably spend the season on the long-term injured reserve list. In addition to those forwards though, the Maple Leafs have quite a few prospects that will be fighting for roster spots including Kapanen, Casey Bailey, Mitch Marner, and William Nylander.

That volume of competition should turn this into an interesting preseason for Toronto.