Kasperi Kapanen is a good player. I think we should say that from the start, because by necessity, a lot of this piece will be focused on his flaws, and a relative down year for him where we learned more about what he couldn’t be than what he could. So let’s reinforce; Kasperi Kapanen is a good player.
At 22, he put up a 20 goal, 40 point season without much power play time, and strong play driving impacts, while also contributing on the penalty kill. His speed created issues for opponents at both 5v5 and 4v5, and he had enough finishing skill to capitalize on the chances he got. Tellingly, Kapanen had a strong individual shot rate and expected goal rate — strong evidence his speed was giving him offensive opportunities.
Votes - Kasperi Kapanen
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Moving to last season, the story changed. Starting the season on the left side on a line with John Tavares and Mitch Marner, Kapanen never looked comfortable. He wasn’t a good enough passer to cause damage from his off-side, and his puck carrying was neutered. He didn’t appear to scale well with elite talent on his line, which perhaps isn’t too surprising in hindsight. Kapanen’s success often comes off the back of his speed and his ability to carry the puck and shoot it. Even at his best, he doesn’t use his teammates tremendously well. On a line where he’s not the best puck carrier or shooting threat, he doesn’t add a lot offensively.
Eventually, Kapanen was demoted to a third line role, with a rotating cast of players, but often with Alex Kerfoot to his left. Here, he looked more comfortable. Kerfoot defers to Kapanen to do the puck carrying, which he’s more than capable of doing against depth lines and on his strong side. Together, they put up 53.6% CF% and a 52.3% xGF% (per Natural Stat Trick), and you take that all day, every day from your third line. Kapanen’s numbers with Jason Spezza are similarly good.
Nonetheless, Kapanen’s failed foray into the higher ends of the lineup stuck in the minds of fans. His inability to synergize with higher-end players limits his upside, and sewered his play driving numbers from 2019/2020. On a team with two elite right wingers already, people started to wonder if Kapanen made the most sense to the Leafs as a trade chip for that mythical elusive defenseman who helps solidify the Leafs’ back end.
In a sense, this occurs because Kapanen is one of the few players who both has non-zero value to other NHL teams, and can actually be traded by the Leafs. None of the big four are on the table. No one other than Kapanen, Kerfoot, and Johnsson have any market value. So it makes sense that these three are bandied about in every half-baked HFBoards trade proposal.
However, it’s worth emphasizing: Kapanen is still a good player. His shot rate is solid, if not as spectacular as it was in 2018/2019. He can clearly be part of a strong third line, and adds PK value as a shorthanded threat. He’s making $3.2M until the summer of 2022, which is reasonable enough for a middle six caliber player. And perhaps just as importantly, the Leafs really do have no one behind him on the right side. He suffers in comparison to William Nylander and Mitch Marner, because they’re two of the best right wingers in the world. Kapanen isn’t. However, there are a lot of teams where he plays on the second line and does a reasonable job at it. Not being a star shouldn’t be a reason to trade him for any right-handed defenseman who can skate.
Other Voters’ Comments
Katya: Trade him! There can be only two RWs, and this is surplus, he must go. And he had a crappy season, so that’s obviously all we should rate him on, and let’s just dump this guy. Too bad Andreas Johnsson isn’t on this list, so I could write that twice. You cannot just blame TSN for the endless rounds of Marner vs Nylander, who do you trade now supplanted by Kapanen vs Johnsson. We’re all guilty. And as long as we’re contemplating three or four right-shooting defenders on the team with nearly equal bad results, we’ll be fantasy trading a winger. I think that’s coloured the view of Kapanen to the point everyone may have forgotten how hard it is to conjure up a useful top six to middle six winger, particularly one so willing to add aspects to his game he didn’t need as a zippy little youngster who scored golden goals. If Nick Robertson tops out at Kapanen II, we’ll be really happy. I ranked Robertson higher because he has potential to be more than that, but the differences here are very small for me.
Fulemin: Kasperi Kapanen is a quite good player and people seem to have forgotten that. The 90th-percentile best outcome for every forward behind him on this list is to someday be as good as Kasperi Kapanen is right now. Even Nick Robertson, whom we all love and cherish, would be a great success story if he wound up as good as Kappy. Wingers with 40-point upside who can kill penalties, make their own offence, and be a high-end shorthanded threat do not grow on trees, no matter how good the two RWs ahead of him on the chart are. And his contract is totally reasonable. Trade him if you must, but make sure you get something real back, all right?
Brigstew: He had a disappointing season relative to expectations, but I still have high hopes for him. He seemed to get in a groove near the end of the year after just randomly adopting the role of team pest/enforcer, which was hilarious to watch. Of all the potential depth players making more than $1 million, I would probably trade him last but it’s between him and Kerfoot.
Where should Kapanen be ranked on the list?
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Outside the top 10
Between 10 and 7
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