With multiple injuries to the Maple Leafs’ fourth line and the underperformance of Ben Smith, Kasperi Kapanen is given the opportunity to show how he’s grown since his last showing with the team.
Do you believe in curses? Apart from the Frederik Andersen injury on Saturday night, the Toronto Maple Leafs‘ injuries lately have been on the fourth line at right wing. Nikita Soshnikov, Eric Fehr, and Josh Leivo have been victims of this trend. With no one left to turn too, besides Ben Smith, the Leafs looked to the Toronto Marlies for help.
This will be Kapanen’s second trip to the NHL as he was part of the group rookie call up after the Trade Deadline last year. The young forward looked good in his first game against the Tampa Bay Lightning and most would remember the nifty dangle he had in the third period.
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However, with all young forwards, the offence was there but the defence wasn’t. Kapanen was on the wrong end of many turnovers in his games with the Leafs. To avoid burning a year off of his contract, the Finnish forward was sent back to the Marlies. Unfortunately, he was held pointless in all nine games, despite the obvious signs of high-end skill.
Kapanen was among those cut after the final preseason game in training camp this season. The former 2014 first-round pick has made the best of his time in the minors. In 43 games, Kapanen has 18 goals and 25 assists for a total of 43 points. What may be surprising to some fans is that he kills penalties now. By using his speed to intercept passes and close gaps on other players, he has been a huge part of the Marlies’ PK.
It’s a crucial point in the season, but Sportsnet’s Chris Johnston tweeted that Kapanen will make his NHL debut Tuesday night against the Florida Panthers.
The 20-year-old winger has come a long way from the speedy, but sometimes “does too much,” forward that Leafs fans saw last year. At practice this morning, Kapanen said:
"Obviously it feels good. I think I played pretty good year this year, but obviously I had that injury which was a bit of a set back. But I think I worked hard and I feel close to 100 percent and I’m just really happy to be here."
Mike Babcock is always one to talk about opportunities and that they must be earned. Kapanen has earned his opportunity with Maple Leafs. It’s up to him to show the city of Toronto what he can do with it. Last time he had to watch his fellow rookies score their first NHL goals. This time around, he looks to score his own.
How do you think Kasperi Kapanen will do with the Leafs? Where do you see him fitting in long-term? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.