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‘Inconsistent’ Kasperi Kapanen; How Much Longer will Penguins Wait?

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Pittsburgh Penguins Kasperi Kapanen
Pittsburgh Penguins Kasperi Kapanen: Photo Courtesy of Pittsburgh Penguins

The Pittsburgh Penguins are last in the Metro Division. They’ve lost three straight games and three straight home games to boot. Jake Guentzel and Kasperi Kapanen can’t buy a goal, and now Kapanen is ticketed for the fourth line until the potentially dynamic winger finds some consistency in his game.

The Penguins lineup is upside down. There hasn’t been a Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin in the lineup until Saturday when Crosby returned, and Jeff Carter missed a few games, too.

The lines helmed by third and fourth line centers Teddy Blueger and Brian Boyle have been consistently good. The top lines, not so much.

In tough times, better players are supposed to rise to the occasion. The Pittsburgh Penguins’ lonely eyes have turned to Kasperi Kapanen, who has begun the 2021-22 NHL season with a thud. And that begs the question:

What is Kasperi Kapanen?

Is he a role player with flashes of top-six talent? That’s the conclusion the Toronto Maple Leafs eventually chose after he dipped from 20 goals in 2018-19 to just 13 in 2019-20.

Or, is he a dynamic top-six winger with speed, power, defensive awareness, and 30-goal chops? That’s the version Penguins head coach Mike Sullivan chose to adopt this offseason despite Kapanen’s 11-goal, 30-point performance in 40 games last season.

And here we are. Eight games into the season, and Kapanen is both goalless and now demoted to the fourth line on Monday.

Such a demotion obviously won’t last long. Sullivan was lightning the kindling beneath Kapanen’s colorful suit pants to get more from his winger.

“He’s obviously an important player for us, and certainly he’s a guy that we have high expectations for. So we’ll continue to work with him through this process to try to help him capture his best game,” Sullivan said on Monday. “But you know, he’s just been a little bit inconsistent to this point. He’s had some games when he’s played well, and it just hasn’t gone in the net for him. And then he’s had others where he’s gotten away from it…”

Kapanen is now 25-years-old. It’s been a long time since he was the Penguins 2014 first-round pick.

The up-and-down and Duncan’s yo-yo of Kapanen’s career must end sooner than later. The showstopping player who burst into the Penguins lineup without so much as a training camp last season put up goals and opportunities despite playing on the Penguins’ fourth, then third line.

He swooned shortly after. Sullivan benched him. The pair had a few talks. Then Kapanen and Evgeni Malkin went on a blitzkrieg through NHL goalies for a few weeks until Malkin suffered a knee injury in mid-March.

Kapanen swooned again.

Then Kapanen finished the regular season with a flourish. He scored seven points in his final seven games as the Penguins charged to the East Division crown.

Kapanen was up and down in the playoffs. He scored three points (1-2-3) in six games but had just one assist in the final three games of the Round One six-game loss to the New York Islanders. Kapanen was also on the ice for more goals against.

“I think Kappy’s game has just been inconsistent. I think there have been some games where he’s played really well, and I think he had an impact. His speed is noticeable. He’s a threat when he’s on the ice. He makes good decisions with the puck, and he’s had other moments when he hasn’t (been noticeable). He’s gotten away from it…,” Sullivan said.

I don’t yet know what to make of Kasperi Kapanen, either. His wild suits and willingness to be “fashion-forward” with a purple T-shirt and some sort of purple fedora on locker clean-out day can be interpreted in different ways, but they’re part of his personality.

He also reminds me a great deal of Phil Kessel. In Toronto, Kapanen had to own up to being late for meetings and it cost him playing time.

It would be disappointing to see Kapanen head down the road of being uncoachable (we can smell our own), and it appears he heeds Sullivan’s teaching. The head coach spoke of Kapanen changing his diet and adopting a more professional lifestyle during training camp. 

But the proof is on the ice. After this season, Kapanen will be an RFA and will likely want a healthy raise over his $3.2 million AAV, too.

Having fun and being a personality are things in rare supply these days. Every hockey team can benefit, but goals and preventing goals are more important. That’s what Kapanen must do consistently. He’s a power forward in waiting, but how much longer will the Pittsburgh Penguins have to wait?

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Pittsburgh Hockey Now Editor-in-Chief, formerly 93.7 The Fan, Sportsnet Hockey Tonight, NHL Home Ice. Catch Dan tweeting @theDanKingerski and the official @pghhockeynow account.

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Rob
Rob
1 month ago

He will be fine. Most scorers are streaky. No need to panic!

Uros
Uros
1 month ago
Reply to  Rob

I agree. Just give it time. To me it seemed that he was trying to do more than he can and got stuck on it. He will get back on track because his talent is undeniable.

C Daniel
C Daniel
1 month ago

Malkin’s delayed start to the season is unfortunate for him, but he’s potentially got 10 years of NHL career to play without Malkin so…

Sharon
Sharon
1 month ago

If he’s going to demote Kappy, half the Team could be up for demotion. I would let Kappy’s scoreless streak run his course, and I would not demote him.

Rob
Rob
1 month ago
Reply to  Sharon

The 4th line could be an upgrade for him if he stays there a while both boyle and O’Connor are playing very well. It will only help him simplify his game until his scoring comes back. I would not be surprised if he gets 1 or 2 goals immediately

Mark Fisher
Mark Fisher
1 month ago

Play him.

Mike
Mike
1 month ago

I disagree with the characterization of him as inconsistent. Even since he’s turned pro, he’s been the exact same player. Get trapped in defensive zone. Uses speed to generate rush. Pulls up and does figure 8s at blueline. Halfheartedly dumps puck deep. Skates back to bench. Total consistency.

Ethan Kelley
1 month ago

Seems like only certain guys get in Sully’s doghouse while others get a free pass. Can always change a line without dropping to 4th–not like 1st lines been gang busters either. Zucker and Kappy might just not be a good match on wings–both guys play the similar and can stretch the ice but also drift away from puck. Quite a few skilled wingers on roster actually–pretty play but not much grit. Disagree with author that Kappy will ever be a “power forward” Not his game. Just like Sam Lafferty can’t spend his youth trying to be Tanev. Sam spends a… Read more »

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