Toronto Maple Leafs Roster Preview, 50-in-50: Kasperi Kapanen

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TORONTO, ON - APRIL 19: Kasperi Kapanen #28 of the Toronto Maple Leafs skates against the Washington Capitals in Game Four of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals during the 2017 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Air Canada Centre on April 19, 2017 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. The Capitals defeated the Maple Leafs 5-4 to even series 2-2. (Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty Images)

As yet another member of a talented crop of young Toronto Maple Leafs players, Kasperi Kapanen’s potential is over flowing. Blessed with elite speed along with a defensive responsibility rarely seen in a player of his age, he could be a key piece for the Leafs moving forward.

Toronto Maple Leafs Roster Preview, 50-in-50: Kasperi Kapanen

Kapanen’s 2016-17 season consisted of extreme highs coupled with crushing lows. Beginning the year in the AHL, Kapanen kicked off his season on an absolute tear. Sitting at a point per game by the midway point of the season, Kapanen looked like a prime candidate to receive an NHL call-up. Unfortunately, things didn’t go as planned.

Injury Struggles

When the Toronto Marlies took on the Syracuse Crunch on January 13, Kapanen’s season was abruptly halted. As the puck made its way behind the net, Jake Dotchin crunched Kapanen against the boards, leaving him seriously injured.

Despite being limited to just 43 games, Kapanen’s offensive production never waned. Continuing at a point-per-game pace, he finally earned an NHL call-up in late March. With eight games remaining and the Leafs in the midst of a playoff push, Kapanen’s season debut was a baptism by fire.

NHL Stint

Two things were abundantly clear when watching Kapanen at the NHL level. First, he was, without a doubt, the fastest player on the Leafs roster by a wide margin. And second, his decision-making skills needed some work. While Kapanen demonstrated that he possessed NHL caliber speed, shooting, and puck handling skills, it was clear his hockey I.Q hadn’t caught up yet.

In spite of his initial struggles, Kapanen showed steady improvement as the season wore on. Working to become patient with the puck, he started allowing his brain to catch up to the quickness of his feet. So improved was Kapanen, that he earned a coveted role on the Leafs stringent penalty kill less than twenty games into his NHL career. Not too bad for Toronto’s sixth-best rookie.

Normally, a season as successful as Kapanen’s would make him a lock to make the Leafs out of training camp. Yet, the Leafs are not a normal team, and it remains to be seen where Kapanen will begin his 2017-18 season.

Analytically Speaking

With such a small sample size to draw from, Kasperi Kapanen’s advanced numbers do not paint the entire picture of his value. With that said, they are still quite impressive.

Despite playing nearly all of his minutes on the fourth line, Kapanen finished the season as a positive possession player at even strength. His 52.1% CF rating is quite impressive for a bottom six forward, showing an innate ability to drive play despite his limited role.

Interestingly, luck did not play a positive factor in Kapanen’s performance. The Leafs PDO with Kapanen on the ice registered a dismal 92.6. Typically, a depth line experiences low PDO due to defensive usage. However, 92.6 is still very low, even by those standards.

Kapanen’s steadily improving performance, in spite of some bad puck luck, is extremely commendable.

Profile (via EliteProspects)

Age: 21

Position: RW/LW

Height: 6’0

Weight: 181 lbs

NHL Entry Draft: First round, 22nd overall in 2014 by Pittsburgh

Contract (via CapFriendly)

Kapanen is currently signed to a standard three-year entry level contract. This deal pays him an NHL salary of $832,000, and an AHL salary of $70,000. Coming out at an annual cap hit of $863,000, it takes up only 1.34% of the Leafs total salary cap. With the Leafs possessing precious little cap space, having Kapanen signed for under a million dollars is fantastic value.

Paramount to his contract details, Kapanen is waivers exempt. This ensures that he will not be required to pass through waivers when shuttling between the NHL and AHL. This flexibility is incredibly convenient for Toronto. Their forward group is packed to the brim with talent, and Kapanen may not begin the season with the team.

2017-18 Season

Despite Kasperi Kapanen’s positive showing last year, it is looking more and more likely that he will begin 2017-18 in the AHL. This is in no part due to his skill or performance. The Leafs are absolutely loaded with wingers, especially after signing Patrick Marleau in July, that there simply might not be room for Kapanen right away.

While it is a topic of debate whether Matt Martin should draw in the lineup over Kapanen, Mike Babcock clearly loves Martin’s veteran presence. It is not conducive to Kapanen’s development to begin yet another season in the AHL, but this is the price a deep team pays.

The Leafs will surely regress back to the mean on the injury front. This will ensure Kapanen as, likely, the first option to fill in for an injured winger. If he can earn a lineup spot, the sky is the limit for Kasperi Kapanen’s impact in the upcoming season.

Main Photo: Embed from Getty Images

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