Looking to make the leap: Kasperi Kapanen

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This post is part of Maple Leafs Day on PHT…

For some, Kasperi Kapanen made the leap last spring, when he appeared in all six of Toronto’s playoff games and scored a pair of goals, including a double-OT winner in Game 2 against Washington.

But Kapanen wasn’t quite so sure.

“Looking at the guys in this room, the top six,” Kapanen told Sportsnet during locker clean out day. “I don’t think I belong there.”

The 21-year-old was right, to a certain degree. He spent the playoffs largely in a fourth-line role, skating alongside veteran center Brian Boyle and tough guy Matt Martin.

Kapanen, though, is not in the Martin or Boyle mold. He was the 22nd overall pick in 2014 and has proven to be a quality scorer at virtually every level. He had 21 points in 41 games in his final year in the Finnish League — as an 18-year-old competing against seasoned professionals. He had five points in seven games for Finland’s gold medal-winning team at the ’16 World Juniors, scoring the OT winner in the final against Russia.

Last year with the Marlies, he was a point-per-game player, with 18 goals and 25 points in 43 contests.

Hardly the stuff of a fourth-liner.

But such is life within the Maple Leafs organization. It seems a given that, based on his playoff exploits alone, Kapanen will get a longer look at the NHL level than he did the two seasons prior.

He appeared in nine regular season games during the ’15-16 campaign, and just eight last year. Granted, injuries played a role in his limited activity in ’16-17.

Yet Kapanen is right in that top six minutes will be tough to come by.

Toronto had six forwards crack the 50-point plateau last year: Auston Matthews, James van Riemsdyk, Nazem Kadri, William Nylander, Mitch Marner and Tyler Bozak. Outside of that group, other quality forwards remain. Connor Brown and Zach Hyman both acquitted themselves nicely in their rookie campaigns, and grinding veteran Leo Komarov was a lineup fixture, appearing in all 82 games while scoring 14 goals and averaging 17 minutes per night.

And, oh yeah — the Leafs signed Patrick Marleau this summer.

One would assume Kapanen will, at the least, be in line for a reprisal of his fourth line role, with the opportunity to move up the lineup should injuries or ineffectiveness occur. But he could very well spend more time with the Marlies this season, moving up and down from the AHL.

In the end, put it this way: Kapanen should make some kind of leap this season. It’s just tough to predict where he’ll land.

Blackhawks’ Boris Katchouk sidelined by ankle sprain

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CHICAGO — Blackhawks forward Boris Katchouk will be sidelined for four to six weeks with a left ankle sprain, the team announced.

The 24-year-old Katchouk played almost 12 minutes during a 3-0 preseason loss to Detroit on Saturday night. He was acquired in a multiplayer trade with Tampa Bay in March.

The Blackhawks open the season on Oct. 12 at Colorado.

The team also said forward Jujhar Khaira is day to day with a right ankle injury.

Ducks’ Urho Vaakanainen crashes into boards, leaves on stretcher

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ANAHEIM, Calif. — Ducks defenseman Urho Vaakanainen was taken off the Honda Center ice on a stretcher after he crashed into the end boards in the first period of Anaheim’s preseason game against the San Jose Sharks.

The Finnish defenseman was conscious and alert with full movement in his extremities at UCI Medical Center, the Ducks said.

The frightening incident occurred midway through the opening period when Vaakanainen smashed into the boards at a dangerous speed behind the Sharks’ net. Vaakanainen appeared to be concentrating on the pass he had just made to Derek Grant, who scored the Ducks’ opening goal on the assist.

Vaakanainen’s teammates came onto the ice and gathered around him as he was taken away on the stretcher.

The Ducks acquired the 23-year-old Vaakanainen from Boston last March in the deal that sent longtime Ducks defenseman Hampus Lindholm to the Bruins. After recording two assists in 14 games for the Ducks last season, Vaakanainen is attempting to win a top-six role on Anaheim’s defense this fall.

Lightning donate $2 million to Hurricane Ian relief efforts

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TAMPA, Fla. — The Tampa Bay Lightning and team owner Jeff Vinik are donating $2 million toward Hurricane Ian relief efforts.

The NHL team announced that $1 million each will be donated by the Tampa Bay Lightning Foundation and the Vinik Family Foundation.

“This is a tragic situation for many families and communities across the state of Florida, but especially so in the southwest region of the state,” Vinik said in a statement released by the team. “In times like these the most important thing we can do is support one another, and we hope this donation will help families recover and rebuild in the months to come.”

Ian made landfall Wednesday on Florida’s Gulf Coast, south of the Tampa Bay area. The Lightning postponed two home preseason games and moved the club’s training camp to Nashville, Tennessee, during the storm.

Maple Leafs sign defenseman Rasmus Sandin to 2-year deal

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TORONTO — Rasmus Sandin has signed a two-year, $2.8 million contract with the Toronto Maple Leafs, the club announced on Thursday.

The 22-year-old from Sweden was the 29th overall selection in the 2018 draft. Sandin had 16 points in 51 games with Toronto last season. He’s played in 88 career regular-season games, with six goals and 22 assists, and has one goal in five playoff games.

“Got a great set of tools,” fellow defenseman Jake Muzzin said. “With experience, I think they’re only going to get better.”

The signing comes as the Leafs’ blueliners been hit hard by injuries. Muzzin has been dealing with a back issue, and Timothy Liljegren recently had surgery for a hernia.

Toronto then lost Jamie Benn (groin) and Carl Dahlstrom (shoulder) in Wednesday’s 3-0 preseason victory over the Montreal Canadiens, pressing forwards Calle Jarnkrok and Alexander Kerfoot into defensive roles for two periods.