Looking to break into the NHL on a full-time basis for the first time, Kapanen could be seen slotting in alongside Nazem Kadri on the third line with the entire Leafs roster intact, but with Nylander missing he’s hitting the ice with Auston Matthews on Toronto’s top unit. The result? Four goals and four assists in seven games.
With 67 points in 71 AHL games, Kapanen was capable of producing on his own, but doing that and driving a line at the NHL level is a different story. Because he’s so new to the NHL and already producing at a high level, it may be easy to assume he’s just riding on Matthews’ coattails.
“You can’t belittle or somehow dismiss what Kasperi Kapanen is doing. It’s pretty impressive,” Brian Burke said on Sportsnet 590’s Starting Lineup Wednesday. “Can you find a player to play with players like that? Yes. Will they produce? Yes. But he’s really taken it up a notch. He’s actually elevating the line’s play. He’s been good.”
Indeed, Kapanen doesn’t have the benefit of power play time. At 5-on-5 he has glowingly positive numbers, with a 51.72 Corsi percentage and plus-4 goal differential. Matthews sits at 46.91 and minus-1, respectively.
So in that sense Kapanen is showing (very) early signs that he can become a top-six player in his own right, or at least a third-line skill player that fits in so well to modern NHL lineups.
It’ll take more than two weeks to determine where he ends up as an NHL player, but he’s certainly not playing the Matt Moulson role.
Moulson, you’ll recall, rode shotgun next to John Tavares in New York for a few years and became a three-time 30-goal scorer, topping out at 69 points in 2011-12. He was traded out before his contract expired, but when he became a UFA the Buffalo Sabres signed Moulson to a five-year, $25 million contract. He ended up playing three full seasons for the team, never scoring even 15 goals and reaching the 40-point plateau just once. He was waived last season and spent most of the year in the AHL, where he currently resides. In 53 AHL games, Moulson has 50 points.
“Moulson’s the best example of that, but go back to the Sedins,” Burke continued. “We had trouble finding someone to play with them. It wasn’t that simple, that anyone could play with them. We had trouble finding them the right linemate after Trent Klatt left, it took us a while.
“What Kasperi Kapanen is doing, yes you could say he’s just Matt Moulson, but he’s also taking advantage of the opportunity and playing well.