Player: Kasperi Kapanen
Born: July 23, 1996 (24 years old)
Height: 6’ 1”
Weight: 194 pounds
Hometown: Kuopio, Finland
Draft: 2014, Pittsburgh Penguins, First Round (No. 22 overall)
2020-21 Statistics: 40 games played — 11 goals, 19 assists, 30 points
Contract Status: Kapanen is signed for one more season through the 2021-22 season, the final year of a three-year, $9.6 million contract ($3.2m annual cap hit) that he signed as a member of the Toronto Maple Leafs. He will be a restricted free agent at the conclusion of that contract with the Penguins controlling his free agency rights.
Like most of the Penguins he struggled to make a huge impact offensively against the New York Islanders. He finished the six-game series with one goal and two assists and a minus-three rating. His goal came late in Game 1, tying the game to send it to overtime just minutes after the Islanders had retaken the lead. He had some quality chances in the series, including a couple of partial breakaways, but it did not translate to offense on the scoreboard.
Story of the Season
Kapanen missed 16 games during the season due to injury, including the first part of the season. When he was on the ice though he made a pretty noticeable impact and turned out to be a great fit in the Penguins lineup. Former general manager Jim Rutherford paid a steep price to re-acquire him from Toronto, but Kapanen was a strong presence in the Penguins’ lineup offensively. His speed was game-changing, he seemed to have at least one breakaway every other game (and he almost always seem to score on them), and he was a better defensive player than he was advertised to be, especially as the season progressed. It also stood out how physical he was at times, delivering a couple of big hits throughout the season. Given the price they paid for him the Penguins needed him to be a significant contributor. He is. He was supposed to start on Sidney Crosby’s line, but ended up finding a home on the second and third lines throughout the season. It worked.
Regular season 5v5 advanced stats
Data via Natural Stat Trick. Ranking is out of 16 forwards on the team who qualified by playing a minimum of 150 minutes.
Corsi For%: 50.2% (10th)
Goals For%: 64.7% (4th)
xGF%: 47.5% (12th)
Scoring Chance %: 47.8% (14th)
High Danger Scoring Chance%: 46.3% (10th)
5v5 on-ice shooting%: 12.7% (3rd)
On-ice save%: .932 (5th)
Goals/60: 1.02 (2nd)
Assist/60: 1.81 (3rd)
Points/60: 2.82 (2nd)
Kapanen is a player who did not see the Penguins dominate or control possession very often, but he was able to finish a ton of his opportunities and use his skill to convert chances into a ton of goals.
This is in-line with the player he was in Toronto. This could either be fairly troubling that he is out-shooting league averages and perhaps at the risk of a regression, but also fairly comfortable in knowing this is a player with good hands and offensive instincts who is building a fairly long history of being a great finisher that can shoot and setup scoring plays.
Here is a look at the common linemates. For a player initially brought in to play with Crosby, Kapanen actually found more of a home playing on Evgeni Malkin’s line. When both were healthy they were used in tandem more often than not, in a highly offensive-tilted role (as the bottom chart shows with the black line for o-zone starts well above the red line for d-zone).
Kapanen used his speed to fly the zone, often shooting on the rush from the right side of the ice. As we’ll see in the highlights below and from the red dots here, it was a very effective area for hit.
As the middle right chart shows, the Penguins were EXCELLENT at scoring goals at 5v5 this season with Kapanen on the ice.
And here is a story of his career. Kapanen didn’t get a ton of minutes or ice time, despite his high production. That’s fairly typical of an offensive winger in the Mike Sullivan system, if they’re not on with the top power play, they’re not likely to get a ton of ice time and have to make the most of their moments. Kapanen certainly did in 2020-21.
Kasperi Kapanen’s 12 regular season goals for the Penguins this season.
Kapanen is not an analytics darling by any means. His scoring chance, high-danger scoring chance, and expected goal differentials were average to maybe slightly below average among Penguins forwards. But there is still something to be said for having the ability to finish, and produce offense, and skate. He is fast, but he is not fast for the sake of being fast. He has something else to go along with it in terms of his ability with his hands and an offensive IQ and knack for scoring points.
If he is able to play a full season he settles in as a productive middle-six winger that can impact the game with his speed and score somewhere between 20-30 goals. He is entering his age 25 season which should be right around the time when a scorer hits their peak. Ideally he starts the year on the second line next to Jeff Carter (we are assuming Evgeni Malkin is not going to open the season) and provides quality scoring depth.
Question To Ponder
The big question here is what is his long-term future with the Penguins? Is he guaranteed to be one of the seven forwards the Penguins protect from the Seattle Kraken in the expansion draft? I would assume yes. I definitely would protect him. If so, what is his future with the team beyond next season? Is he a player that you see as a long-term building block that gets a long-term contract extension? Or is he just a temporary middle-six piece that is interchangeable with some unknown player not yet on the roster? If he is a building block he really needs a big season this year to prove it.
How Would You Grade Kasperi Kapanen’s 2020-21 Season For The Pittsburgh Penguins?
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