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Justin Bourne on Kasperi Kapanen: “He was mature enough to figure it out”

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We check in with Kasperi Kapanen’s video coach from the AHL to get some information on his game

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Toronto Maple Leafs v Columbus Blue Jackets Photo by Mark Blinch/NHLI via Getty Images

When it comes to Kasperi Kapanen, former Toronto Marlies video coach Justin Bourne, now with Sportsnet, has a lot of unique insight on the growth and transformation of a young player.

“He was probably the most interesting personality and player that I was around in my two years in the [Toronto Marlies] organization,” Bourne told the Pensburgh podcast. “He had the most asked of him, of any of the young players.”

Bourne would go onto tell the podcast about the changes that Kapanen needed to make with his game. Kapanen, Pittsburgh’s first round pick in 2014, was then 19-years old when he joined Toronto in the summer of 2015 in the fateful trade that sent Phil Kessel to the Penguins.

The change was a tough one, as Bourne described Kapanen’s integration as a tough one to adjust to a new role and future.

“When he got to the Toronto Maple Leafs organization there was a bit of a rude awakening. It was like — “alright Kapy, you play right wing. Here are the right wingers in the depth chart and it’s William Nylander and Mitch Marner [both top-10 picks]. There’s no path for you to be a right winger in the top-six on this team. If you would like to make the NHL, we would like you to play a different way. We would like you to kill penalties, we would like you to try to play on your off-wing — change the way you play to be a more well-rounded player.”

Bourne would go onto detail the challenges and difficulties Kapanen would face as a young pro and accept a new role. A culminating moment was dealing with the adversity of being a healthy scratch for the Marlies’ first playoff game in 2016, after the team received reinforcements from the NHL that loaded up their depth. Kapanen’s response to this difficult decision stood out to Bourne as a turning point as to why he has gone onto have success.

“There was talk in the coach’s office...Do we want to healthy scratch him to dress what we think is the [team’s] optimal lineup? But — do we lose him if we do that? That was the big risk, is he emotionally going to separate from the group and shutdown? At the end of the day they decided to do it, and he was healthy scratched for the first game of the playoffs, after being a big part of the team all year...

“And he was the first guy at the rink the next day— he was in the gym, he was like 100% turned on. He could have taken it wrong, but he leaned into getting better, [working to] getting more opportunity and that to me was a really exciting sign.”

Kapanen would go onto play the next 14 playoff games that the Marlies had that spring, recording eight points.

Bourne had great insights to illustrate the ups and downs, digging a bit deeper into the Toronto portion of Kapanen’s career. Kapanen has such a unique journey from first round pick to getting traded to a team with two even better players in his spot, to finding his footing and becoming better as a two-way player and eventually growing into an NHL caliber player — a point that Bourne reminds is never 100% assured or totally going to happen for any prospect. And, we’ve seen the ups and downs continue: as a rookie Kapanen scored 20 goals in 2018-19, then had to deal with a changing role and a tougher go in 2019-20.

There’s plenty more good stuff in the podcast to listen to as well, including:

  • As a right-hand shot and being a player with some skills, does Kapanen have anything to offer or a fit on the first power play group?
  • A look into how Jake Guentzel and Sidney Crosby should benefit from playing with Kapanen, and how Kapanen will buy Guentzel and Crosby a bit of extra space (hint: shares a name with a certain 1990’s Keanu Reeves/Sandra Bullock movie)
  • And finally....after watching him closely last season with the Maple Leafs, it possible Cody Ceci actually is better than his reputation and baggage would suggest?

Garrett and Jim also bring us up to speed on the NHL scheduling and the new off-sides rule that would have had big ramifications on a 2016 playoff game against Tampa. And we also discuss what the new division-only game schedule means and just how tough the new division might be with Boston joining the fray.

Check out the newest episode of the Pensburgh podcast here, featuring special guest Justin Bourne!

Be sure to follow Justin on Twitter @JTBourne for unique NHL insight. Loved the tweet the other day of the 2007 Islanders’ training camp teams...Which considering the organization wasn’t that good, they had not one, not two but three future Penguin Stanley Cup winners in 2009 — just about 21 months away, not that anyone could have known!

Don’t forget to support us by rating and subscribing to the podcast on iTunes, Spotify, and Google Play.

Make sure to also follow us on Twitter all season long to get updated every time a new episode drops: @PensburghPod

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Intro/Outro music courtesy of: Sylendanna.

Track title - Online Now! & I Think Its The Way I Walk