Looking to make the leap: Kasperi Kapanen

Getty
3 Comments

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.