Penguins News & Rumors: Kapanen, Zucker & More

Welcome to Pittsburgh Penguins News & Rumors, where we will look at the latest news surrounding the organization in the preseason and in training camp. The Penguins opened their exhibition schedule on Sept. 27 against the Columbus Blue Jackets and lost by a score of 3-0. Not too many of the projected starters dressed for the opening preseason game, but one player who did was Kasperi Kapanen. He has an opportunity to do his part in making up for the absences of elite players Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin to begin the season.

Kapanen Has the Opportunity To Be a Star in the Making

During the 2018-19 season, Kapanen broke out as a member of the Toronto Maple Leafs, as his offensive numbers included 20 goals, 24 assists for 44 points in 78 games. He followed those numbers up with the Maple Leafs in 2019-20 with 13 goals, 23 assists for 36 points in 69 games and had 11 goals, 19 assists for 30 points in 40 games during the 2020-21 season in his first season with the Penguins. The 25-year-old right wing has the chance to further his progression and become a primary playmaker for the black and gold this season.

Kapanen received praise from head coach Mike Sullivan in that he told the forward he has the talent to be an elite playmaker in the NHL. However, the positive comment does not excuse him from criticism, according to the Penguins head coach, because the staff realizes what a good player he can be for the team. Without their two best offensive players to begin the season, he can provide the Penguins with the offense they will be in need of both on five-on-five and on the power play.

Kasperi Kapanen Pittsburgh Penguins
Kasperi Kapanen, Pittsburgh Penguins (Photo by Jeanine Leech/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

He is known for his speed but has some improvements that can be made to his game as well, according to a piece written by Matt Vensel of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

“Offense aside, there are other areas where he can make strides. As noted, he could potentially wreak havoc as a forechecker if he sets his mind to it. Defensively, there is much room for improvement. And even though the Penguins had the league’s 27th-best power play in 2021, they almost never turned to him in that phase. Kapanen is expected to skate on the second line at the beginning of training camp. Teddy Blueger could be his center. Or Jeff Carter. Or maybe Evan Rodrigues. Regardless, it will be interesting to see if Kapanen has found another gear” (from “Countdown to camp: Can Kasperi Kapanen find another gear in his second year with Penguins? – by Matt Vensel, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 9/15/21).

Kapanen started the opening exhibition game on the first line with Rodrigues as the center and Sam Poulin as the left wing.

Zucker Admits to Underwhelming Performance in 2020-21

Jason Zucker did not have a good year by his own standards and is motivated to put the past struggles he had last season behind him. The 29-year-old left wing finished with nine goals and nine assists for 18 points in 38 games in 2020-21 and is confident in his abilities to produce more in 2021-22 for the Penguins. He was rumored to be the Penguins’ selection by the Seattle Kraken in the expansion draft, but the new franchise selected Brandon Tanev instead.

Zucker finds himself back with the Penguins and has to contribute in a bigger role with Crosby and Malkin both sidelined. According to a piece written by Vensel of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, the left wing is eager to start the upcoming season.

“The 29-year-old winger sounded downright disgusted Friday at Penguins training camp when he was asked to reflect on his first year and a half in Pittsburgh and say whether he feels his production can reach another level in 2021-22. “I hope so,” he said. “I thought when I first got here, it was good. I thought I came in and did what I wanted to do. Last year was awful, to be honest with you. I didn’t like my game at all. I thought there were some good points and some really bad points,” said Zucker, who had a goal and two assists in the playoffs” (from “Jason Zucker, admittedly ‘awful’ last season, looks to get back to scoring goals – by Matt Vensel, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 9/24/21).

Zucker is one of the players on the Penguins, but has much to prove to the coaches, fanbase and himself that he can put his nightmare of a season in the rearview mirror with much better offensive production in 2021-22.

The Penguins are in the process of finding out what line combinations can give them the best chance to make up for the absences of Crosby and Malkin to begin the season. While there certainly is no replacing the two future Hall of Fame players, who will have their numbers retired by the organization many years from now, the black and gold are not going to use their injuries as an excuse if they struggle early on in the season. A common mentality adopted by sports franchises in dealing with injuries is “next man up,” which is indeed the case for the Penguins to begin their 2021-22 season.

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