Not everyone is playing well for the Toronto Marlies. But the team’s youngest player, Kasperi Kapanen, continues to impress.
In Toronto’s 4-1 loss to the Albany Devils in Game 6 of the second round of the AHL Playoffs, it was Kapanen who created the team’s best chances.
Early on, after receiving an outlet pass for a partial breakaway, Kapanen created a couple of the Marlies’ only first period chances.
To start the second period, with the Marlies trailing 2-0, the 19-year-old winger stopped up off the rush to set up Viktor Loov for another chance.
On his next shift, Kapanen received a pass from below the goalline from Stuart Percy and beat Devils goaltender Scott Wedgewood cleanly under the pad for the Marlies’ only goal of the game.
"I didn’t really see much," Kapanen said of the goal that cut the lead to 2-1. "Wedgewood was in good position and I thought we needed some pucks to the net and Stu gave me a good pass and this time it went in.
After missing one of the Marlies’ first round games after blocking a shot and not returning in Toronto’s final game of the regular season against the Rochester Americans, Kapanen has returned to the lineup to register five points in eight games as a teenager in the playoffs.
And while Kapanen feels his line with Zach Hyman and William Nylander has developed some strong chemistry and is playing "really good," it has been Kapanen who has often driven the play.
"We need Willie (Nylander) to be a lot more competitive with and without the puck," Marlies head coach Sheldon Keefe said for the second time in as many home games. "He’s taking his foot off the gas without the puck and as a result we’re not getting it nearly enough when he’s out there."
But Kapanen is doing everything he can to retrieve the puck and make plays for his line.
"I think Kapanen’s been good. He has given us lots of speed, he’s been on the puck, he gets goals and everything but he’s been good in other areas both offensively and defensively with his speed especially," Keefe said. "This (Albany) is a big, strong, older, heavier team so if you can have a guy with some legs who can win pucks and get there first for you it’s helpful that he can do that."
Kapanen, who said his foot isn’t bothering him anymore (tests came back negative), credits his skating ability for his success.
"I’m a good skater and I like to use my forecheck and my skating to get onto the defensemen and start making plays," Kapanen, acquired in the Phil Kessel trade alongside Nick Spaling, Scott Harrington, and a couple of draft picks, said. "Obviously I know how to shoot and make plays and be a threat offensively but I just try to compete out there and be a good, well-rounded player."
In his first full year in the AHL, among the few teenagers in the league, Kapanen finished sixth in under-20 scoring behind Nylander, Mikko Rantanen, Kevin Fiala, Vladislav Kamanev and Sonny Milano.
Somewhere in there, between his 25 points in 44 games, Kapanen scored the golden goal for Finland in overtime at the World Junior Hockey Championships.
The former 22nd overall pick feels his game has come a long way.
"It’s a lot better. It’s my first full season with the Marlies and the AHL but it’s been fun, it’s been a good experience and I feel like I’m getting better everyday," Kapanen said.
But there’s more growth to come. On Monday, the Marlies will put their season on the line in Game 7 at 7:30 p.m.
"I feel my game’s getting better but I feel I have to bring my ‘A’ game to the next game," he said. "And so does the team."