Kasperi Kapanen Must Find His Game Quickly for Penguins

Photo courtesy of Pittsburgh Penguins Twitter account

Jim Rutherford’s first draft pick as a member of the Penguins’ organization was a young, fresh-faced winger in Kasperi Kapanen.

Just a few seasons later, Kapanen was the highlight of a package heading to Toronto for Phil Kessel. Kessel became an icon in Pittsburgh and helped them to back-to-back Stanley Cups.  Kapanen, instead, got his start in the NHL with the Maple Leafs playing in 202 career games there with 41 goals and 90 points.

Prior to last season, Rutherford re-acquired Kapanen and he’s now played in 84 games with the Penguins over two seasons.  In that span, he has 20 goals and 54 points.

Certainly it’s not a terrible pace, but the Penguins would prefer a tad more out of Kapanen. The majority of Kapanen’s playing time isn’t coming with offensively challenged players. He was penciled into a line with Evgeni Malkin and Jason Zucker prior to the season. Obviously, neither of those guys have been at full health for most of the season but Malkin is back now. And on multiple occasions in recent games, Kapanen has been demoted to the fourth line mid-game.  Kapanen was actually slated to play on the fourth line on Sunday against the Kings but Danton Heinen’s late scratch, moved him up in the lineup.

It’s clear the coaching staff is frustrated with Kapanen and for good reason. He is on a 20-goal pace with nine goals in 44 games. There is nothing wrong with that. However, if you break down those nine goals, it becomes more clear why the coaches want to see more out of him.

Kapanen opened the season on a nine-game scoreless drought. He broke that against the Flyers ten games in with a hat trick. He’s also been on separate five, six, and seven game goalless droughts this season. 

Furthermore, defense is not something Kapanen shows a particular interest in playing. He can be very lazy away from the puck at times which obviously drives Mike Sullivan and his staff up a wall. So if he isn’t scoring in a consistent manner, Kapanen is doing more harm to the team than good.

Both Kapanen and Evan Rodrigues have found goals hard to come by recently. Rodrigues is currently on his own 12-game scoreless drought. With some of their best hockey this season coming when they’re paired on a line together, maybe reuniting them isn’t a horrible idea.

Having Jeff Carter as a third center is certainly a nice luxury but he can always scoot up to the wing on Malkin’s line. Rodrigues can center the third line with Kapanen flanking him.

It can’t hurt the team much more than it has in recent weeks. The Penguins haven’t gotten much in the way of secondary scoring recently and it’s why they’ve lost their past three games, barely skating by with a point against two lesser teams in the Detroit Red Wings and Seattle Kraken.

Of course the all-star break is right upon us as the Penguins will face the Capitals on Tuesday night before getting a nice weeklong break before they head to Boston next Tuesday. The team has been playing an immense amount of hockey in the past month. They’re probably a bit tired.

Sullivan hasn’t uttered the f-word a lot in his Penguins tenure so hearing him actually admit that his team might be a bit fatigued tells you that they truly are.

Maybe the break will do Kapanen some good. Hopefully he’ll get back on the score sheet and buy back in to the demanding two-way style Sullivan imposes on his team.  As a restricted free agent at season’s end, the Penguins must determine if signing Kapanen is a prudent move. There’s a good chance he wouldn’t be moved before this year’s trade deadline because it’s clear the Pens are going to attempt to contend. Unless Hextall feels he can use Kapanen to pull in a player that helps the Pens immediately, Kapanen will likely remain a Penguin.

He’s making $3.2 million this season so he’d certainly want something in that neighborhood, if not more. The Penguins could non-tender him and allow him to freely go into free agency.

However, I do hear that there is a certain President of Hockey Operations in Vancouver that has acquired Kapanen on multiple occasions that was mentioned at the top of this article and clearly has an affinity for him. Maybe he’d give up an asset of some sort to acquire Kapanen for a third time.

No matter what the future holds, Kapanen must get it together. No matter what line he’ll be playing on, Pittsburgh needs him to score and do it with more frequency than he is now.

No team wants to healthy scratch a player making $3.2 million. But the Penguins do have some guys like Radim Zohorna and, eventually, Drew O’Connor when he’s healthy, that are chomping at the bit to make a difference as a full-time NHL’er.