We should spend some time talking about Kasperi Kapanen because I am not sure there is a more fascinating player on the Pittsburgh Penguins roster right now.
Fascinating in a “what in the heck is exactly is going on here” sense.
Kapanen is a good player. Not a star. Not a bust. Just a good player with some very unique skill sets. Mainly, he is fast. Really fast. Game-changing fast. It helps him create chances that other players may not be able to and it makes him an exciting player at times, especially when he puts all of his skills together at once and he blurs across your TV screen.
We have seen flashes of that since the start of the 2020-21 season when he rejoined the Penguins organization in a trade with the Toronto Maple Leafs. For his career he has been a 20-goal, 45-point player per 82 games, which is fine top-six production. There is still always that hope that could he take another step forward and be a legitimate top-line All-Star. After a strong training camp and preseason there was some hope that could happen this season.
It still could.
So far it has not.
Through the Penguins’ first eight games Kapanen has just four assists and zero goals, despite being one of the Penguins’ most used forwards and getting top power play time due to the injury and roster situations. His assist numbers are fine, right in line with what you expect him to do. It is the zero goals in eight games that is surprising — and disappointing — especially given that he has more than 20 shots on goal.
With his skill, that role, that ice time, and that number of shots you would expect at least something to find the back of the net here. So far, nothing. At times he looks like he is putting himself in position or generating a chance, but he never seems to get a quality shot off or will have the puck just roll off of his stick.
Statistically that observation holds up.
When you look at some of Kapanen’s advanced analytics it does not paint the picture of a player that is on the verge of breaking out, other than the number of shot attempts and shots on goal. Yes, he is getting his share of attempts and shots, with both numbers being among the highest on the team. His 38 total shot attempts are second highest, while his 22 shots on goal are fourth.
But he is not generating a ton of actual chances given his ice time and early role.
His individual expected goal mark of 1.52 (all situations) is fifth, but when you break it down to a per 60 minute rate (0.64) he drops down to 11th place on the roster. His 9.29 individual scoring chances per 60 minutes are ninth place on the team, while he also has just two individual high-danger scoring chances for the season. That is a per 60 minute rate 0.84 per 60 minutes, a rate that is 19th out of 23 skaters on the roster this season. He has also generated just 0.42 attempts off the rush per 60 minutes, an area where you would expect Kapanen to shine.
He also has not drawn a single penalty in the first eight games of the season.
In other words, he has not really done much to make an impact or change a game.
Maybe part of that is not having a top center to play alongside for much of the season.
Perhaps it is just a slump that we are noticing more because it is at the start of the season with no games around it to hide it. If a slump happens in the middle of January when there are 35 games already around it you tend not to notice it as much.
Whatever it is, the Penguins have to hope it is temporary because Kapanen is supposed to be a key part of this team. They paid a steep price to acquire him, they are playing him in a key role, and looking for him to be an impact player. The talent and the potential are all there. We just need to see him realize it all.