Penguins Trade Targets in Potential Kasperi Kapanen Deal

The Pittsburgh Penguins were blown out by the New Jersey Devils on Thursday night as the Devils lit the lamp early and often in a 6-1 victory. The Penguins have now lost three in a row, and while some of the attention is turning toward their crease, one player who has been generating some trade buzz is forward Kasperi Kapanen.

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The speedy winger started this season off like a house on fire and was producing at a very high clip while the team was decimated with injuries. The 25-year-old forward has 24 points in 52 games this season, but he hasn’t recorded a point in 12 straight games – and one goal in 19 games – and his ice time had decreased from over 20 minutes in some games to 8:03 more recently.

Needless to say, he’s struggling, and while his trade value is low, the Penguins should move on from Kapanen before the trade deadline. Here’s a look at a couple of players Pittsburgh should consider for a deal.

Pavel Zacha, New Jersey Devils

The Devils have been involved in several trade discussions already this season as they’ve been linked to a couple of big names on the open market. The team had playoff hopes in 2021-22 but unfortunately, the injury bug caught up to them early this season, and the team wasn’t able to find its groove once healthy. Pavel Zacha is a former sixth-overall pick from the 2015 NHL Draft, however, he hasn’t quite lived up to expectations. Much like Kapanen, Zacha is a pending restricted free agent who is currently making $2.25 million against the salary cap.

Pavel Zacha New Jersey Devils
Pavel Zacha, New Jersey Devils (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Zacha is an intriguing option for the Penguins because he’s versatile, playing not only center but also on the wing. He would allow Pittsburgh to keep Jeff Carter on the team’s second line with Evgeni Malkin and give the third line a new center for Brock McGinn and Evan Rodrigues. Perhaps a Jared McCann 2.0 here?

The Devils forward has similarities to Kapanen as they are both coming off their second contracts. While the Penguins forward averages just under two minutes a night on the power play, Zacha averages 2:14. This would allow the Penguins to plug the 24-year-old into their second power-play unit. The Devils may have some interest here because they have Jack Hughes and Nico Hischier down the middle and need more stability on the wing. Kapanen, who, like Zacha, offers the team some control, could find his scoring touch with a change of scenery.

Related: Penguins and Canucks Trade Could Provide 2022 Deadline Blockbuster

The Penguins have tried since they traded with the Toronto Maple Leafs to use Kapanen in an offensive role, and at times it’s worked, but they have also avoided using him in a penalty-killing role. The Maple Leafs loved having their “Finnish Flash” on the penalty kill as he was dominant and led the Maples Leafs in shorthanded goals in multiple seasons. In Pittsburgh, Kapanen doesn’t see a lick of time shorthanded, something I have never understood.

Victor Olofsson, Buffalo Sabres

The Buffalo Sabres have already been active on the trade market, and they aren’t finished. The team has a number of pending unrestricted free agents who are drawing interest from other teams, and they also have a couple of restricted free agents who have found themselves in trade chatter, including Victor Olofsson.

Victor Olofsson Buffalo Sabres
Victor Olofsson, Buffalo Sabres (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

The 26-year-old former seventh-round selection burst onto the scene in 2019-22 with 20 goals in 54 games. This season it’s been a much different story as he’s only managed seven goals and 24 points in 42 games. Olofsson sees over two minutes on the power play in Buffalo and is a winger who can play both sides of the ice, making him appealing for the Penguins, who would love to create even more lineup flexibility.

Swapping Olofsson for Kapanen could make sense for both teams. It would allow both players who are pending restricted free agents to enjoy a change of scenery, and they play similar roles for their team. While the Penguins forward hasn’t recorded a point in 12 games, the Sabres forward has two goals in his last 34. Despite the head-scratching stretch, he ranks sixth on the Sabres in points; meanwhile, Kapanen ranks seventh for Pittsburgh. This deal is worth considering for both management groups.

The Penguins have tried to hide Kapanen on the team’s third line, which has led to more struggles and a lineup that’s all over the place because of the movement. The team has players playing out of their natural positions just to accommodate a player who is having a hard time producing. Pittsburgh isn’t the only team with a player who is underperforming, and management should circle both Zacha and Olofsson as trade targets before the deadline in late March.

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