It’s six games into the 2019-20 season and already there are theories and thoughts coming from all angles on what’s wrong with the Toronto Maple Leafs and how they could’ve had a better start to the season – even if their losses came against the St. Louis Blues, Tampa Bay Lightning and a speedy Montreal Canadiens.
But one of the bigger discussions that has surfaced as of late is whether or not Kasperi Kapanen should be taken off the team’s top line with John Tavares. Through the team’s first six games, Kapanen has two assists and is a minus-six playing alongside Mitch Marner and John Tavares. His numbers certainly aren’t outstanding early on.
That said, based on his career numbers, it might be a bit of an early overreaction to say that he’s struggled to this point.
Kapanen’s Career Numbers
So far, in 139 career regular season games, Kapanen has tallied 28 goals and 56 points. That’s an average of 0.4 points per game to start his young career. But last season, a contract year for the 23-year-old, Kapanen upped his average to 0.56 points per game with 44 points in just 78 games for the Maple Leafs.
But a new contract and a new season and he’s been expected to up the production – at least by fans and local media. A three-year deal with an annual average value (AAV) of $3.2 million and the expectation and pressure on him has shot through the roof.
Based of his average from last season – his first full season in the NHL – he should be at 3.4 points so far this season. Now, knowing that fractions of points aren’t possible, Kapanen should be between three and four points through the team’s first six games. He’s at two – a little under his average from last year, but certainly nothing to be worried about just yet.
Don’t Fret Just Yet
The Maple Leafs as a whole are off to an okay start. After six games, the team is 3-2-1 with seven of a possible 12 points. It’s nothing to write home about, but it’s not something that should be creating mass panic among Leafs Nation either.
Sure, they threw up a stinker against the Lightning and gave up seven goals, but that’s due to a lack of defensive coverage and comfort among the newer Maple Leafs players. That can be rectified over time. The offence, on the other hand, hasn’t been a major issue.
Maybe you’d like to see more production from your top six, but so far the Maple Leafs have had some outstanding games from their bottom six forwards – even with the Babcock rotation going on with the fourth line.
The others will get going – it might just be taking them some time. After all, a number of them have new contracts to live up to and that might be weighing on their shoulders. But for Kapanen it’s far too early to panic. Maybe a short demotion to the third or fourth line might help, but it could also backfire and shatter any confidence the kid might have.
Like Kapanen, Keep the Faith
With the new contract, faith in Kapanen is already dipping among Maple Leafs circles. Why hasn’t he scored? Is he really the right guy to replace Zach Hyman on the top line? All of these questions have been asked just six games into the season. But are the really warranted at this point?
He’s just 1.4 points under his point-per-game average from last season and just 0.4 points under his career average to start the season. And while panic has set in for some, the young forward is keeping faith in himself.
“When it rains it pours,” he said, according to the Toronto Sun’s Lance Hornby. “They’re passing pucks off my skate and going in, a lot of bad luck. Lately, I haven’t been at my best, but it’s nothing to be frustrated about. It’s just going through a tough time. Just stay positive and it will be better soon.” (from ‘Slumping Maple Leafs forward Kapanen keeps the faith’, Toronto Sun – 10/12/19)
Playing on the top line came with changes for Kapanen – who had to make the shift from right wing to the left side. While he still insists it’s not a problem, the change has clearly had an affect on his game.
“I just have to stay positive,” he said, according to TSN’s Kristen Shilton. “Sometimes you just go through tough times.”
And while he’s struggled to start the year – ever so slightly – with poor decision making and some tough breaks, he still has time to rectify any early issues. Six games in, he has two points. But let’s not forget, the Maple Leafs are just six games in and it’s far too early to define a player’s season based solely on that short of a sample size.
Andrew is in his 8th year reporting for The Hockey Writers covering the Toronto Maple Leafs. He began his broadcasting with CBC’s Hockey Night in Canada team as well as being part of their coverage of the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi. He’s the former play-by-play voice of the London Jr. Knights for Rogers TV and currently hosts the Sticks in the 6ix podcast. You can follow him on Twitter at @AndrewGForbes.