Player: Kasperi Kapanen
Born: July 23, 1996
Weight: 194 pounds
Hometown: Kuopio, Finland
Draft: Pittsburgh, 1st round (22nd overall), 2014 NHL Entry Draft
2021-22 Statistics: 79 GP, 11 G, 21 A, 32 P, 16 PIM
Contract Status: Kapanen signed a three-year, $9,600,000 contract with the Toronto Maple Leafs before the 2019-20 season; will be a restricted free agent at the conclusion of this season.
During the seven-game series against the New York Rangers, Kapanen played in all seven games, registering three assists and claiming a plus-4.
Story of the Season
A single word to describe Kasperi Kapanen’s season? Regression. Regression in just about every discernible category.
The 2020 season saw Kapanen record 30 points in 40 games. Hey, maybe Jim Rutherford knew what he was doing by re-acquiring his former first-round draft choice.
The start of his 2021-22 season wasn’t all bad, either. The forward notched four points (all assists) in his first five games. Throw in a hat-trick by November 6 and it looked like Kapanen was primed for another solid year of production. Looking at his monthly splits, they kind of tell the whole story. November proved to be Kapanen’s best month of the season. After that, the wheels fell off.
Kapanen never found consistency. By January, coinciding with the return of Evgeni Malkin, the 25-year-old was reunited with Malkin, hoping to replicate the spark he found with the center the season prior. He did see a brief uptick in the production, but the goalscoring pace that Kapanen was lauded for in 2020 never came.
In fact, after the January 23 game, Kapanen would play the next 13 games without registering a single point and went 20 straight games without a goal.
In the final month of the regular season, another dry spell struck. Kapanen would tally just two assists between March 29 and April 29.
Regular season 5v5 advanced stats
Data via Natural Stat Trick. The ranking is out of 17 forwards on the team who qualified by playing a minimum of 150 minutes.
Corsi For %: 51.57 (10th)
Goals For %: 55.22 (7th)
xGF %: 52.37 (11th)
Scoring Chance %: 51.73 (12th)
High Danger Scoring Chance %: 52.72 (11th)
On-ice shooting %: 7.02 (13th)
On-ice save %: 93.85 (5th)
These advanced metrics are a whole lot of meh-to-yuck. It was fair to assume that Kapanen’s shooting percentage would regress from his 2020 output (a career-high 16.2 percent), but Kapanen followed it up with the lowest shooting percentage of his professional career with a measly 8.5 percent. His career average is 11 percent.
Don’t ask Kapanen to take the puck out of the zone for you because it won’t be pretty. These percentages show a player that isn’t terrible, but one that is maddeningly up and down.
Kasperi Kapanen has put together a few nice games.. this being the best indicator that he’s building confidence— Nick Brlansky (@Nick_Brlansky) March 23, 2022
Uses his speed to create a chance… attacks the front of the net… doesn’t defer at the last moment & is a skate blade from a highlight reel goal pic.twitter.com/gLtwiO2H9U
Kasperi Kapanen, when on his game, is a good, not great, player. Problem is, how frequently is he on his game? Some nights he looked dialed in, deserving of top-six minutes. Other nights, and more often than not, he was invisible. And it’s not like he didn’t recognize it. Kapanen went on record multiple times throughout the season detailing his struggles.
In a top-nine role, Kapanen has the tools to be successful and has proven it in the past, both in Pittsburgh and in Toronto, but the inconsistencies in his game, and being known and relied upon as an offensive player, could be too much to handle.
Ideally, Kapanen’s 2022-23 season isn’t as bad as his 2021-22 campaign. Yes, that much is obvious, but can he reach the 40-50-point mark? If the Penguins bring him back, it would likely be on a one-year deal. I don’t get the sense, unless something drastically changes, that the team is eager to hitch its wagon to Kapanen.
He’s a fast skater and has a quality, right-handed shot. Yet, Kapanen heads into his age-26 season with some uncertainty about his future.
Question to ponder
What to do with Kasperi Kapanen? What player are the Penguins, or any other team who will employ his services, getting with him? What is Kapanen’s true worth? For a team that is dealing with some salary cap questions, is this player worth $3.2 million? Can those funds be put to better use?
How would you grade Kasperi Kapanen’s 2021-22 season?