Pittsburgh Penguins’ head coach Mike Sullivan knows he has a wild card up his sleeve, and his name is Kasperi Kapanen. The speed-demon of a winger has shown since his arrival in Pittsburgh that he’s continuing to develop his game, and in 2021-22, look for Kapanen to take his talents to the next level. If anyone is ready to break out for the Penguins, it’s number 42.
When the trade went down with the Toronto Maple Leafs last season, Penguins fans were worried the team gave up too much to re-acquire the shifty forward from Toronto. The package included a few prospects and a first-round pick which ended up being 15th overall. Certainly a steep price for someone who had a career-high of 44 points in a season. Not to worry, Penguins fans, the trade is already paying off, and in 2021-22 Kapanen is going to take his game from good to great.
Mike Sullivan Will Push Kapanen With Tough Love
After the Penguins’ preseason game against the Columbus Blue Jackets on Monday, coach Sullivan spoke to the media, and one player he zoned in on was Kapanen. The coaching staff can’t get over how much the player has developed and will be taking off the leash and letting the winger go free this season. Here’s the Penguins coach suggesting his team has another elite player on their hands in Pittsburgh:
Having an open dialogue with his head coach is going to do wonders for Kapanen. He’ll be praised at times and pushed or called out at others. Sullivan thinks the world of his player, and from the sounds of it, couldn’t be more excited to give him some more responsibility. Look for Kapanen to play even more on the power play and penalty kill in 2021-22, and his production will increase because of it. I would not be shocked if the speedster reached 30 goals and 70 points this season, even without Evgeni Malkin for the first few months.
Injuries Mean Opportunity for Kapanen This Season
The Penguins have already been chomped on by the injury bug, as both Malkin and Sidney Crosby are going to miss some time to start the season. Nothing new in Pittsburgh as they are usually among the league leaders in man-games lost. The holes in the lineup will be tough to fill, but it’s also going to give a player like Kapanen a much bigger chance to show off his skills and dominate the game.
Frankly, the Penguins need him to if they want to keep their heads above water while their two superstars are out. The thing is, Kapanen is capable and look for his numbers to go up at five on five with more ice-time and also on the power play and penalty kill. He didn’t score shorthanded last season and only had four points with the man advantage. I would expect to see a couple of shorthanded markers in 2021-22 and for the winger to finish the season with 15-20 power-play points.
Kapanen Works Hard and Loves His Teammates
One of the reasons the Penguins forward will be able to take the next step is because of all the work he’s put in. The knock on Kapanen while with the Maple Leafs was the fact he was fast as hell but couldn’t finish. His feet were moving faster than his hands and mind, but it certainly feels like everything is working in sync now. Speed never takes a night off, and if he’s able to continue to use his legs to get him in the right positions, the goals are going to come and in bunches.
Another element worth mentioning is the fact Kapanen absolutely loves it in Pittsburgh and has admitted in the past it’s the closest group he’s ever been a part of. Comfort level certainly plays a role in his production. Here’s a clip from a recent episode of The Summer Shift podcast, where he opens up about his feelings about the group:
Clearly, Kapanen is proud to be a Penguin and is ready to go heading into the 2021-22 season.
Big Season Ahead on Many Levels for Penguins Winger
At 25 years old and entering the prime of his career, Kapanen is confident in his abilities to produce at a high level for the Penguins. He’s entering a contract year where he’s slated to make $3.2 million in 2021-22. With some other Penguins such as Bryan Rust, Malkin, Kris Letang among others who are also entering contract years, this does feel like a make-or-break season in Pittsburgh. At this point, being four years younger and with more potential than someone like Rust, if Kapanen has himself a fine season, he’s going to be awarded with a long-term extension to stay with the franchise.
A coach can have a lasting impact on a player, and hearing coach Sullivan rave about Kapanen, and his ceiling should be music to the ears of Penguins fans. The talented winger has all the tools to be an elite player in the NHL, and this season will be a huge step in the process. His head coach will be rooting for him and also be his biggest critic. This relationship is going to be a storyline for the entire season and likely for many more years to come in Pittsburgh.