What was it like for Pittsburgh Penguins winger Kasperi Kapanen to be stuck in his native Finland waiting for a work visa issue to get resolved while his new teammates went through training camp?
About what you might expect.
“It kind of sucked,” Kapanen said Monday after practicing with the Penguins for the first time at the UPMC Lemieux Sports Complex.
His chance to get on the ice with the team was further delayed as he went through an eight-day quarantine per the NHL’s COVID-19 protocol after arriving in the United States, and he missed the club’s first three games.
That also, um, lacked a sense of fun.
“It was a long week for sure, but I’m just happy it’s over with now,” Kapanen said.
So are the Pittsburgh Penguins.
“I thought he had a good practice,” coach Mike Sullivan said, although he did not commit to Kapanen making his Penguins debut Tuesday in a rematch of Sunday’s shootout win against Washington, labeling the winger a game-time decision.
“It’s never easy trying to jump right into a team practice like that. He’s trying to jump on a moving train, but I thought he did a good job.
“His mobility, his skating is very evident. He has good size. He’s strong on the puck. I’m sure with each day that he gets under his belt, he’s going to be better physically, and he’s going to get more familiar with how we’re going to play.”
The Kasperi Kapanen Trade
Kapanen, the key return for the Penguins in an August trade with Toronto that included shipping their first-round pick in 2020 back to the Maple Leafs, had been penciled in for some time to play on the right side of the top line with Sidney Crosby and Jake Guentzel.
So, naturally, the first drill of practice Monday, a high-paced three-on-three scrimmage, had Kapanen skating with Evgeni Malkin and Jason Zucker.
Or maybe the Penguins just wanted to give the team and Kapanen a chance to explore some options.
After that, Kapanen joined Crosby’s line for drills and scrimmages. He found that the accelerated pace suits him and that he already knows what kind of role he needs to fill with Crosby and Guentzel.
“It’s a couple of very talented players,” he said. “They play with the puck a lot, and they know how to make plays. Just looking at their track records, it shows what kind of players they are. I feel like I can bring a little bit of speed to that line, hunt down pucks and get the pucks to them and be around the net. I’m looking forward to seeing what we can do.”
If that’s as soon as Tuesday, Kapanen is willing.
“It’s obviously not an easy situation, but I felt fine out there,” he said of practice. “If I am going to play tomorrow, then I’m up for it.”
Kasperi Kapanen, 24, was drafted in the first round by the Penguins in 2014 but was shipped to Toronto in the Phil Kessel deal before he got into an NHL game. He scored 20 goals for the Maple Leafs in 2018-19 and grew into a solid penalty-killer. Sullivan said Kapanen will be “a big part of the penalty kill.”
During his quarantine, Kapanen used workout equipment supplied by the Penguins and virtually began learning the Penguins systems and talking to the coaches.
Being at practice was a whole other animal.
“Whenever you’re not really on the ice – I don’t remember the last time I had a team practice – it’s always tough to know where to go and know the system,” he said. “But I think whenever they want to put me in, I’m ready to go. I feel good. The more games I get, the more comfortable I’m going to be.”