Jim Rutherford is quite familiar with the Kapanen family.
The current Pittsburgh Penguins general manager drafted Sami Kapanen in 1995 and selected son Kasperi Kapanen in 2014, so there was no hesitation in reacquiring the younger Kapanen like he did Tuesday in a six-player trade with the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Rutherford dealt Evan Rodrigues, Filip Hallander, David Warsofsky and a 2020 first-round pick to the Maple Leafs in exchange for Kapanen, plus Jesper Lindgren and Pontus Aberg.
“He plays the style that the Penguins play,” Rutherford said of Kapanen Wednesday during an appearance on Hockey Central. “We like his speed. We feel that he was blocked out in Toronto (on) the right side behind (Mitch) Marner and (William) Nylander. We feel he can play in the top six.”
Rutherford sent Kapanen to Toronto as part of the blockbuster Phil Kessel trade back in 2015 before the Kuopio, Finland native had made his NHL debut.
Kapanen has scored 33 goals and 80 points in 147 games with the Maple Leafs over the past two seasons.
“Most players I trade – like 99 per cent of the players I trade – it’s not because I don’t like them as a person or a player,” Rutherford explained. “It’s circumstances. Whether it’s cap reasons or budget reasons or we need a certain type of player. When we traded Kapanen, he wasn’t a player I wanted to trade but we got Phil Kessel which was an important player to get for the Penguins and it turned out that he was very important.”
Rutherford said the 15th-overall pick they sent to Toronto on Tuesday should turn out to be a good player but one who “probably won’t be ready to be an impact player for another two or three years, and with where we are in our window to contend with our core guys (Sidney) Crosby and (Evgeni) Malkin and (Kris) Letang we feel that adding a player that can come in and play for us now in our top six was important.”
Kapanen has two more years remaining on his current contract, which comes with an annual $3.2-million cap hit, before he becomes a restricted free agent in 2022.
Rutherford spoke to the 24-year-old after the trade and the forward said was he was disappointed because “he really liked playing in Toronto and hoped he would play there longer.”
The prospect of playing on a line with a future Hall of Famer will make the transition to Pittsburgh much easier.
Rutherford said he expects Kapanen to play on the right side with either Crosby or Malkin with Bryan Rust likely being the other right winger on the top two lines, but that will be determined in training camp.
The Penguins finished the shortened regular season with the seventh-best record in the NHL yet were unable to advance beyond the qualifying round, losing to the Montreal Canadiens in four games.
Acquiring Kapanen was the first move in what could end up being a busy off-season for Rutherford, who added that the flat cap has made everything more difficult for GMs around the league.
Pittsburgh currently has less than $1 million in available cap space and the team has a handful of restricted free agents Rutherford needs to make decisions on. Defenceman Justin Schultz and forwards Conor Sheary and Patrick Marleau are unrestricted free agents whose salary cap hits in 2019-20 were a combined $9.2 million.
The team is also expected to trade one of their two restricted free agent goalies, Tristan Jarry or Matt Murray, with Murray being the more likely to be dealt.