November 23, 2015
TORONTO — Prospect Kasperi Kapanen didn’t look like a player coming off an injury on Sunday against Binghamton.
The 19-year-old forward had his best game with the Marlies, scoring once and setting up two more as Toronto improved to 9-0-1 in its past 10 games with a 6-4 win over the Senators. He also had a season-high four shots on net after averaging only 1.4 shots per outing in his first 10 games of the season.
“When Kapanen’s playing the way he did today he can play with anybody,” said Marlies coach Sheldon Keefe.
“He’s electric, moved his feet, played with incredible speed in both directions. He was outstanding today, looked confident.”
The speedy Finn, who was acquired from Pittsburgh when Toronto sent all star Phil Kessel to the Penguins in a trade, struggled with consistency to start the season with the Marlies, in large part due to injuries.
Kapanen missed the first two games of the year because of a virus and had just two goals in his first seven games after returning. In three of those contests he failed to record a single shot on net.
He scored in back-to-back games early in November, but just as he was finding his groove he had another setback — this time a lower-back injury that cost him two more weeks of ice time. While the Marlies hit the highway for an extended road trip, the winger stayed in Toronto for therapy and off-ice conditioning.
“He’s had a tough go to start the year, a couple periods of time where he wasn’t getting game action,” said Keefe.
Kapanen, five-foot-11 180 pounds, opened the scoring against Binghamton on a nice set up from fellow 19-year-old prospect William Nylander while on the power play. Nylander found his winger between the face-off circles and Kapanen roofed it over Chris Driedger’s blocking arm.
In the second period, Kapanen picked up the puck near his own blue line and skated it deep into the Senators’ zone on the left side before slamming on his brakes to get off a wrist shot that Driedger couldn’t control the rebound on. Nylander came in from the opposite side and put it in to make to tie the game 2-2.
A potential look into the future for the Maple Leafs, Kapanen has enjoyed the opportunity to share the ice with Nylander, who leads the AHL in scoring with 23 points in 17 games.
“It feels good, it feels like there’s chemistry. Right now it just seems we’re finding each other and that’s a good thing,” said Kapanen.
“Certainly he and Willy connected, that was good to see,” added Keefe.
Kapanen’s an offence-first player and his top skills are his ability to skate and control the puck. The 22nd pick from the 2014 NHL Draft, however, has been tested by Keefe to round out his game while developing with the Marlies and playing in his own zone is something he’s trying to improve on.
“It’s been a big focus of my game, I thought I did a good job with it today,” said Kapanen.
Kapanen’s biggest challenge right now on such a talented squad is to stay healthy so that he can find a rhythm. Sometimes he isn’t as noticeable as a first-round pick should be, and he doesn’t standout like Nylander. His coach, though, believes his skill set is high enough to make a difference no matter who he plays with.
“He can be quiet and then jump into a hole and be game-breaker,” said Keefe.
Kapanen has five goals and two assists in 11 games with Toronto. The Marlies next game is Friday in Syracuse against the Crunch.