One of the biggest trades that went down in recent Toronto Maple Leafs history involved moving perennial 30 goal scorer Phil Kessel. The team was under new management and the priority was to get younger and start to acquire assets for the future.
Kessel didn’t fit the bill. He was shipped to the Pittsburgh Penguins, where he flourished in the playoffs and eventually won himself a Stanley Cup. The main pieces the Leafs got in return were talented forward, Kasperi Kapanen and defenceman, Scott Harrington, along with a couple of draft picks.
Harrington wasn’t consistent enough on the blueline and is no longer with the organization. Kapanen, on the other hand, has spent time with the Marlies, matured his game and is playing a huge role in clutch situations for the Leafs.
When Kapanen came over to to the Marlies initially, he looked a bit out of place. In fairness to him, being traded from one organization to another is usually a huge shock. In his first year with the Toronto Marlies, the Leafs AHL affiliate, he had 25 points in 44 games. These are respectable numbers for a young forward learning his way in the pro game.
He was also one of the prospects the Leafs called up near the end of the season. They wanted to get a sense of what they had kicking around in the system. It was a great audition for the likes of William Nylander, Zach Hyman, and Connor Brown, all of whom have graduated to the big club this year.
Kasperi Kapanen has been in the NHL for 10 games this year and he's scored:
– game-tying goal vs. PIT
– game-tying goal in Game 2
– 2OT GWG
— Future Of The Six (@FutureOfTheSix) April 16, 2017
Kapanen looked great as well. He played in nine games and while he didn’t record a point, his speed gave opponents fits all game long.
Over the summer, Kapanen worked hard and was determined to come to the Marlies and show what he was capable of. The results were staggering, as Kapanen was a point per game player in the AHL. He was also injured for a large portion of the season which makes his turnaround even more impressive.
Kapanen is an interesting combination of skills. He’s a great penalty killer and can handle himself on the defensive side of the puck. The Finn is also offensively gifted and has been able to score some massive goals. More on this later. His greatest asset is without a doubt his speed.
Kapanen can absolutely fly and uses his speed offensively and defensively to help him overwhelm his opponents. Combine this with his other skills and Kapanen is as solid a prospect as they come in the Leafs organization.
Kappy is Clutch
Leafs fans are well aware that their team had been battling it out for the playoffs for the majority of the season. It was a situation that the young Leafs didn’t think they’d find themselves in so soon, but they made their own luck and are now entrenched in a battle against the Washington Capitals.
Before they clinched, however, they were having some trouble closing the deal. This was a consistent problem they fought to solve throughout the season as the young team learned what it takes to succeed.
In the last four games of the regular season, the Leafs had a chance to punch their ticket to the postseason. They lost to both the Capitals and Tampa Bay Lightning before facing the Penguins on the last Saturday night of the season.
The Leafs were trailing 3-2 late in the third before Kapanen found himself in the right place to send home his first career NHL goal. This goal couldn’t have come at a better time and was the driving force in the Leafs comeback, which saw them take the game 5-3 in regulation.
Now into the playoffs, the Leafs needed a hero in overtime against the Capitals. Kapanen had already scored once in the game and ended up securing the win for Toronto off a slick pass from Brian Boyle. This goal gave the Leafs the split in Washington and the momentum heading back home for games three and four.
Kapanen has a history of scoring huge goals, as he was the overtime hero against Russia during the gold medal match of the 2016 World Junior Championship. He scored the wraparound goal that allowed Finland to win the gold on home ice.
The Leafs insisted on Kasperi Kapanen being a part of the deal with the Penguins. A few years later and it looks like the management team was right to insist. Kapanen is young and improving every year and should fit right into the Leafs system of talented players.
Fans can count on the young Finn playing a large role in the playoffs and really coming into his own next season where he’s basically a lock to make the big club out of training camp. His contribution will surely add to the Leafs’ impressive youth movement.