How Falling Out of the Spotlight is Helping Kasperi Kapanen Become a Star

Sep 30, 2016; Buffalo, NY, USA; Toronto Maple Leafs right wing Kasperi Kapanen (28) celebrates his goal against Buffalo Sabres during the second period at KeyBank Center. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Hoffman-USA TODAY Sports
Sep 30, 2016; Buffalo, NY, USA; Toronto Maple Leafs right wing Kasperi Kapanen (28) celebrates his goal against Buffalo Sabres during the second period at KeyBank Center. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Hoffman-USA TODAY Sports /

After a slow start to his career with the Toronto Maple Leafs organization last year, Kasperi Kapanen looks poised to take a step forward this season.

June 27th, 2014, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: The Wells Fargo Center was rocking; the 2014 NHL Draft was the scene. Kasperi Kapanen took his place in the stands as the top rated skater by NHL central scouting and was predicted to go in the top 10-15 picks.

As the son of former NHLer Sami Kapanen, a lot was expected of Kasperi. He was touted to be the “next one” in the line of great Finnish players to play in the NHL. He was playing with his father in the Finnish Elite League and was putting up solid numbers as a 16-year-old in a professional league playing with men.

He was projected to star as an under-ager on the prestigious Finnish national U-20 junior team. Unfortunately for Kapanen, an injury in the final practice before the squad was named ended any hopes of playing in the tournament. Oddly enough at the draft, Kapanen began to fall from 10 to 15 to 20, where he was eventually the fifth international skater taken and was selected 22nd overall by the arch rival Pittsburgh Penguins.

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Kapanen had an up and down year, both domestically and internationally, following his draft year. While he starred for an underwhelming Kalpa team, he and his fellow countrymen failed miserably at the 2015 World Junior Championships in Toronto, failing to win a game, nor score many goals either. Following a decent stretch with the Penguins AHL affiliate in Wilkes Barre-Scranton, there were discussions abound about Kapanen’s place in the Penguins organization. “Was he a top six scoring winger, or could he be moved in a trade to propel the Penguins towards another Stanley Cup?”

Then July 1st, 2015 came around. Kapanen had been acquired by the Toronto Maple Leafs as the key piece to the Phil Kessel trade. While many were happy to see Kessel dealt, plenty of fans were rather underwhelmed at the package they had received from Pittsburgh. I myself thought, “that’s it? No Pouliot or Maata?” I was skeptical, I wondered if the Leafs just gave up their best player for a player I wasn’t sure was a top six forward. While Kapanen has extraordinary skills, he was yet to put it all together.

He got off to an absolutely brutal start at the beginning of the 2015-16 season and a lot of Leafs fans were concerned for what this meant for his development and if it was another lost trade by Maple Leafs management.

But following a World Junior gold medal in which Kapanen scored the “golden goal”, he came back to the Marlies filled with confidence and scored at a pretty good pace down the stretch, registering 23 points in his final 41 games. This included an impressive extended tryout with the Maple Leafs, where Kapanen showed flashes of his high-end skill.

Kasperi Kapanen
Apr 6, 2016; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Toronto Maple Leafs forward Kasperi Kapanen (37) controls the puck along the boards against the Columbus Blue Jackets during the second period at the Air Canada Centre. Mandatory Credit: John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports /

For Kapanen, last season must have been tough for him; he was forced to come into a new city, new teammates, a big-ticket prospect acquired for one of the Leafs top 100 players of all time, it was an adjustment season for Kapanen and was nice to see how he progressed.

Going into this season, it had to have been tough to see so many of his more highly touted buddies and now former teammates make the successful jump to the NHL with the Leafs while he, Brendan Leipsic, Josh Leivo and the new crop of young Leafs talent is tasked with following up on what was a historic season for the Toronto Marlies.

Early on last season Kapanen looked overwhelmed. He was overshadowed by more highly touted prospects and subsequently that pushed him further down the lineup and didn’t give him the opportunity to shine. Yet following an incredible developmental season for Kapanen last year, which included a gold medal, it looks like Kapanen has finally hit his stride and is THE prospect to watch for the Marlies this season.

One of the offensive catalysts alongside Leipsic, the duo has the Marlies poised for another deep run by combining for 27 Points in 10 games while leading the Marlies, who are off to an impressive 7-2-1 start, with an impressive 34 goals scored.

Next: What Should the Leafs do When Leivo Returns

While his first season with the Leafs/Marlies had its extreme highs and lows, it looks like Kasperi Kapanen has finally established himself as the player Leafs fans thought they were getting when he was acquired last summer. If Kapanen can continue his hot start, it wouldn’t surprise me to see a veteran winger (James van Riemsdyk or Leo Komarov) dealt for reinforcements on defence in order to give players like Kapanen a shot to make their mark for the Leafs.