One player was the next to last trade in Jim Rutherford’s nearly seven-year tenure as the Pittsburgh Penguins GM. The other was the first Penguins deal for GM Ron Hextall. Both Kasperi Kapanen and Jeff Carter, respectively, are adding real pop to the Penguins lineup and drawing heavy praise from head coach Mike Sullivan.
If you came looking for criticism or cutting analysis on either player, this is probably the wrong spot. After Kapanen scored a pair of goals against the Washington Capitals on Thursday, and Jeff Carter continued his hot streak with another assist, the Penguins’ future brightened considerably.
Kapanen has a thing for big games. In the playoffs for Toronto, and again on the big stage with first place up for grabs against Washington, Kapanen was indomitable.
“Big games are always fun to be a part of. It’s exciting, it’s nerve-wracking, but the rewards are much better,” Kapanen replied to PHN. “So, it’s is a big deal, points for us, and I’m happy that we got this one.”
Kapanen has been up and down in his first Penguins season, with far more ups. There was the third period benching, now ancient history, which seemingly refired his season after a dynamic start.
The puck follows Kapanen, who pushes opposing defensemen with imposing speed and presence. Sullivan surely appreciates the power skating and shooting.
“Kappy had a strong game for us. I think he’s he’s got such a great shot. He’s a good goal scorer. I think his speed is so dangerous,” Sullivan said. “…He just backs the defense off with his speed. And usually, that creates opportunity either for him or his linemates.”
It’s been a while since the Pittsburgh Penguins employed a winger with that skill set who was happy to use it. Kapanen resembles a motivated, younger Phil Kessel, in facial appearance and swooping speed off the wing, doesn’t he? Of course, Kapanen plays much harder on both ends of the rink, too.
This season, Kapanen has 26 points (10-16-26) in 35 games. Last season he had only 13 goals, but Thursday night, he scored goals number nine and 10 in just half that time. With all of the Penguins centers, Kapanen has lit the lamp.
“It’s easy to play my game when I get to play with centers like Geno, and I played with Sid this year. And now I got Cartsy. They’re all three phenomenal players, and they play really smart,” Kapanen said. “They play with confidence, and they have experience. So I’m just trying to play my game and use my speed and get on the forecheck and make plays and try to shoot; shoot as much as I can.”
Jeff Carter, Pittsburgh Penguins
Cartsy. That would be Jeff Carter for the unfamiliar. The Penguins acquired Carter in the wee hours of the Monday, April 12 NHL trade deadline.
Carter had a slow start in his first few games, which included a transition back to center. LA moved Carter to the right wing, but after he settled with the Penguins, Carter’s line has filled the net. In his last seven games, Carter has seven points, including three goals.
“We really like what he’s added to our group. He’s a real good player. I think he’s a smart player on both sides of the puck. He still can really skate. He can shoot the puck. So, you know, we’re really happy with how he’s assimilated into our lineup,” Sullivan replied to PHN on Thursday morning. ” (He’s fit) into our locker room in so many ways.”
Carter’s line with Jared McCann and Jason Zucker or Kapanen has been the Penguins’ best over the few games. As Boston made a special effort to slow Sidney Crosby’s line, Carter’s trio properly functioned as a second line. They provided the primary offensive push in Penguins wins last Sunday and on Thursday.
If the Penguins make the Stanley Cup Final, their “giving” to the LA Kings will increase from a 2022 third-round pick to a second-rounder. The 2023 fourth-round pick is set in stone.
Thus far, even a second and fourth-round pick seems like a bargain, especially compared to the third-round pick the Pittsburgh Penguins spent on Patrick Marleau at the 2020 NHL trade deadline.
Carter will also be around next season at a 50% discount because LA is picking up half of his $5.2 million salary.
“He’s a good personality for our room. He’s really helped our team in so many ways, but we’re comfortable with him and playing him at the center ice position right now,” Sullivan said. “We like his two-way game (and) he’s been decent on the faceoffs. He has good size and strength when he has to defend down low for us…So at this point, we’ve been happy with him at the center position, but we’re also well aware that he’s capable of playing the wing, and that’ll just give us options moving forward.”
Carts, or Cartsy if you prefer, and Kappy. The Penguins added speed, a breath of fresh air, and a breeze when they skate past. The stat sheet agrees.