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Kapanen Oozes Familiarity, Confidence In His Return

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Pittsburgh Penguins Kasperi Kapanen fights Jared McCann

You know Kasperi Kapanen has a long-time and chummy relationship with the Pittsburgh Penguins general manager when he calls him Jimmy.

Jimmy Rutherford was Sami Kapanen’s GM with Carolina and after coming to the Penguins drafted Sami’s son Kasperi 22nd overall in 2014.

Rutherford and the Kapanen family have long been friendly. Getting traded back to the Penguins Tuesday had a strong air of familiarity for the younger Kapanen.

“Super excited about that,” Kapanen said. “It’s where it all started for me, which is pretty cool, and just grateful that Jimmy and (coach) Mike Sullivan want me to go there. It’s been an exciting day.”

Before Kapanen had a chance to play an NHL game with the Penguins, he was shipped to Toronto in 2015 as part of the Phil Kessel trade.

The Penguins reacquired Kapanen, along with prospects Pontus Aberg and Jesper Lindgren from the Maple Leafs in exchange for Evan Rodrigues, David Warsofsky , Filip Hallander and, the big piece, the Penguins’ 2020 first-round draft pick.

In the news release from the Penguins, Rutherford was quoted as saying Kapanen “can improve our top six,” an indication that the fleet 24-year-old right winger could play with one of the team’s top centers, Sidney Crosby or Evgeni Malkin.

“It’s a very positive thing,” Kapanen said. “Even the fact that they think that I could be in one of those two spots is a big honor for me, playing with one of the two better hockey players in the world. But it does mean that I’ve got to hit the gym soon and start working hard for next year. I want to be great. I want to come into camp ready to go and show everybody that I’m not messing around.”

Kapanen declared himself a different player than he was when he got traded to the Maple Leafs, thanks to what he deemed “the AHL process.”

“I think when I was drafted I was a little one-dimensional,” he said. “I loved to play on offense and with the puck. Everything else was kind of lacking for me, especially to make that hop to the NHL.”

Kasperi Kapanen Evolution

Kapanen turned into a penalty killer and a player that he said is more physical and gritty.

“They turned me into more of a two-way  player, which I think has helped me in the long run,” he said.

Kapanen has 41 goals, 90 points in 202 NHL games, but his production took a step back this season even accounting for the pandemic-shortened schedule. He had 13 goals, 36 points in 69 games.

“Two years ago I had a good season,” Kapanen said. “Coming into this year, right off the hop it wasn’t the start that I wanted. I don’t think it was the start for the team that the team wanted, either. Tough to say. I guess it was just one of those years, a bit of a sophomore slump. The puck wasn’t going in for me, and overall my game was very iffy.”

There is nothing iffy about his confidence in returning to the Penguins, whom he said have “a lot of potential.”

He also feels a familiarity with a lot of the players and others in the organization besides Jimmy Rutherford.

“It makes it a whole lot easier than going to a whole new team and a new city that I’m not familiar with,” Kapanen said. “Lucky in a way.”

Read more on the Penguins acquisition of Kasperi Kapanen and the PHN+ Trade Grade here.

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Shelly is the newest columnist and reporter for Pittsburgh Hockey Now. She was a Penguins beat writer for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and remains a contributor to The Hockey News. Catch her on Twitter @_shellyanderson

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