Kasperi Kapanen had some brilliant moments this season. He scored the overtime gold-medal winner for Finland in the World Junior Championships playing in his home country, and he also looked great for a game or two in a Leafs' uniform. He also had a few nice goals for the Marlies, and seems to be good buds with William Nylander. The larger picture, however, painted by his box score totals and recent healthy scratching by Sheldon Keefe, may be somewhat less rosy.
Because Kapanen is only 19 and playing the AHL, it can be tough to find comparable group of players to help give us an idea of what his production might look like at the NHL level. To that end, I pulled up 19-year old AHL player seasons (for forwards) over at Quant Hockey and trimmed the data so as to remove players who played fewer than 20 games in that season and anyone born before 1986 so that we don't get quite so much skew from scoring rates in different eras. Players born in 1986 will be turning 30 this year, and so, while the cutoff is basically arbitrary, it gives us enough an idea of what their NHL careers will look like.
|Born||Name||Season||GP||G||A||P||PIM||Pts./GP||NHL GP||NHL G||NHL A||NHL Pts.||NHL Pts./GP|
|1995||Jacob de la Rose||2014‑15||37||6||5||11||11||0.297||55||4||3||7||0.127|
What is immediately encouraging about this list is where William Nylander sits relative to all other 19 year olds who have played a season in the A. If he turns out to be better than Filip Forsberg (and a lot of things have to go right for that to happen), the Leafs will have an absolutely dynamite player on their hands, but I digress.
Kapanen sits in roughly the middle third - though decidedly in the bottom half - of forwards in terms of his production, which suggests a future rate of NHL point production of somewhere in the half a point-per-game range. As far as a return for Phil Kessel goes, this would be disappointing, but it's certainly not Kapanen's fault that he was involved in the trade, and really, relative to Kapanen's draft position (22nd overall), this outcome is quite reasonable, though in a way similar to his inclusion in the Kessel deal, his draft position shouldn't dictate our expectations.
One thing that stands out in the above table is that Kapanen played fewer games than many of the other 19 year-old players on the list, but then, he did miss a number of games due to the WJC. The optimist might say that with more time spent on the same team, he might have improved his scoring rate, while the pessimist looks at this fraction of a season and says that Kapanen hasn't really proven that he can keep up that rate of production for long. Obviously, it's far too early to make any bold predictions.
If at the NHL level Kapanen scores at a rate between those of Artem Anisimov and Tomas Tatar's, his development should probably be considered a success, especially since he might have an equal chance of repeating Petr Kalus' career trajectory. If he can score more, he might find himself a spot on the wing of his good buddy Nylander. Of course, if he scores any less than Tatar, his two-way game will probably have to be quite strong in order for him to keep a steady job at the NHL level, and so far, I haven't noticed that to be a particular strength of his, but we'll have to see.
If you'll permit me to mix metaphors for a moment, I'll keep my fingers crossed that Kapanen outperforms most of the players in this group, but I'm not going to hold my breath, either.
All the best, Kappy.