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Here’s a Killer Idea: Use Kapanen in Shorthanded Role

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Kasperi Kapanen, Pittsburgh Penguins

Mike Sullivan and his staff have a lot to figure out when the Pittsburgh Penguins convene for training camp in September.

How do they work newcomers Jeff Petry, Jan Rutta and Ty Smith into the defense pairings?

Do they tinker with the Jake-Guentzel-Sidney Crosby-Bryan Rust line, perhaps bumping Rickard Rakell into Rust’s spot on that unit?

Can they assemble the spare parts brought in by Ron Hextall into an effective fourth line around Teddy Blueger?

But perhaps the most important — or most intriguing, at least — might be what they do to coax the best out of Kasperi Kapanen and, in the process, validate management’s decision a few days ago to re-sign him from two seasons.

Kapanen had more of an impact on the Penguins’ salary-cap situation than he did on the ice in 2021-22, when he produced just 11 goals and 21 assists in 79 games — and rarely looked good doing it.

Kapanen’s productivity during the coming season could be a key variable for the Penguins. If he can reestablish his credentials as a top-six forward and generate as many goals as his talent suggests he should, Kapanen could make a difference for his team again.

This time, in a positive way.

Sullivan, quite understandably, seemed to lose confidence in Kapanen as last season unfolded, moving him up and down the lineup, but never finding a place where he was a good, effective fit.

Where Sullivan plans to deploy Kapanen during camp isn’t known, although on the third line with Jeff Carter seems the most likely option. He also figures to reprise his role on the No. 2 power play.

But perhaps — counter-intuitive as this might sound — it is time to expand Kapanen’s duties, to find out if taking on extra responsibilities might help to get him more focused, invested and involved in all facets of the game.

Let him kill penalties.

Kapanen has had cursory auditions for that work in the past, but it’s time to give him a full-fledged one.

The Pittsburgh Penguins need to find a penalty-killer to fill the spot previously held by Brian Boyle (and never really have plugged the hole created by Zach Aston-Reese’s departure); no one should expect Kapanen to take to the job like Patrice Bergeron or Jari Kurri, but it’s a worthwhile experiment.

If he wouldn’t embrace the challenge and opportunity of working on the shorthanded unit, it would be a pretty good indication of the level of commitment he’ll bring to the rest of his game.

Kapanen could, in theory, be a good penalty-killer, in part because his speed and skill could be a deterrent, causing opponents to re-think the wisdom of, say, making a cross-ice pass near the blue line because of the possibility Kapanen could intercept it and have a breakaway.

Of course, there’s more to the job than putting the opposing power play on edge.

Killing penalties is gritty, difficult — and often painful — work

A willingness to sacrifice one’s body to prevent pucks from getting to the net is an integral part of the job description.

Kapanen is far from an accomplished shot-blocker — he averaged 0.99 per 60 minutes played last season, the lowest figure for any of the 27 Pittsburgh Penguins players who appeared in five or more games — and doing it well is a skill that must be refined.

While fearlessness is a good foundation, timing and the ability to read and immediately assess how a play could develop are critical, too.

Kapanen’s learning curve would be steep; he logged — not averaged — eight seconds of shorthanded work in 79 games during 2021-22 after averaging three seconds per game the previous season.

Bob Gainey, he’s not.

But Kapanen doesn’t have to be Gainey. He just has to be the guy Kasperi Kapanen is capable of being, and killing penalties might be one way to help him get there.

And if it wouldn’t work out? Well, Kapanen wouldn’t be the first player to have the talent, but not the intangibles, needed to have a long, productive career in the NHL.

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Steve Malik
Steve Malik
20 days ago

If he can get his act together then trade him

Howard McAuley
Howard McAuley
20 days ago

He worked the penalty kill regularly when he played for the Maple Leafs

Zach
Zach
20 days ago

I expect a bounce back season from Kapanen. Not saying he will light the world on fire, but I expect better from him this year. He did show signs of a good postseason. Even though he didn’t have a lot of points I thought he was very noticeable in the 7 game series with the Rangers.

I am curious who the number three D-Pairing will be. I would say the top four is Dumo-Letang and Pettersson and Petry. My assumption is the third pair will be either Rutta-Smith or Rutta-PO Joseph

Irish Hammer
Irish Hammer
20 days ago
Reply to  Zach

Zach, agree and seen him many times with all NHL games I pay for. He’s really good. Sully screws some of these guys. They need another Dman for the big forwards. Petry is like Dumoulin except skilled. Can’t handle big guys. Montreal is not upset with trade. Happy with Matheson.

Robert Shoemaker
Robert Shoemaker
20 days ago

Surely the management and coaches have some kind of a plan for him given that they just gave him an unjustified contract. Maybe the penalty kill is part of that decision.

Vince Gori
Vince Gori
20 days ago

Let him PK, he’ll get a chance to use his speed and who knows, maybe give him some confidence in the process. Can’t hurt to try.

Zach
Zach
20 days ago
Reply to  Vince Gori

There is definitely going to be an opportunity for him in that role. With Rodrigues more than likely not coming back, and trying to limit Rust in that role, since he is top 6 and plays heavy PP minutes.

charmaine m dawso
charmaine m dawso
20 days ago

i like this idea of him being on the penalty kill as well……losing Zack-Ashton and now Boyle leaves a gaping hole.

Bob
Bob
19 days ago

At least with Boyle we had someone who stood up for the Penguin Players. Another hole that needs filled.

joe Cursi
joe Cursi
20 days ago

He thrived in that role with Toronto!!!

Irish Hammer
Irish Hammer
20 days ago
Reply to  joe Cursi

You must watch a lot of NHL games. He excelled with Leafs on penalty kill. Never could understand. But after moves, just anxious for season. Going to be interesting.

Irish Hammer
Irish Hammer
20 days ago

Toronto used him and very good. He’s fast and will hit.

Travis
Travis
20 days ago

He was a great penalty killer in Toronto and it seem to give him confidence. Paying him 3.2 mil a season let him do something lol , we see what sully does.

William Nichols
William Nichols
19 days ago
Reply to  Travis

Agreed. If Kap could become a younger version of Carl Hagelin, that wouldn’t be so bad.

Alan Smith
19 days ago

Always out of joint somehow! Love how he skates and did well throughout the NY series! Just needs that finishing touch he has lacked so badly! Hope he has a breakout this year!

Crazyhorse87
Crazyhorse87
19 days ago

You would need two shot-blocking D-Men & Center, a D-Man and the Forward that can pass, the rest will be up to Kappy. It’s a tall order, but it’s not impossible if they all can get on the same page. His speed and a little more aggression just might be what the doctor ordered. Then again, the nay-sayers will have a field day when nothing comes to pass.

Keith T.
Keith T.
18 days ago

Hmmm….. Let’s see.. PK needs players with a TON of positional discipline, great communication skills with line mates, keen situational awareness & the ability to read and react, knowledge of the PK duties attack vs contain. IDK. I would park him at the end of the bench. Pens should have cut their losses not hope for miraculous transformations. Dave – this may well be a killer idea. But JR got royally hosed on this deal and the entire league knows it then GM Hextall doubles down on stupid. I really hope I am dead wrong and I have to eat… Read more »

Last edited 18 days ago by Keith Thomas

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