What the Penguins are getting in Kasperi Kapanen

What the Penguins are getting in Kasperi Kapanen

NHL

What the Penguins are getting in Kasperi Kapanen

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Earlier this week, the Penguins acquired right winger Kasperi Kapanen in a trade with the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Here’s how the entire trade breaks down:

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This trade seems to be yet another instance where Penguins GM Jim Rutherford vastly overpaid in order to “get his guy.”

I don’t have a problem with acquiring Kapanen.

I do have a problem with Rutherford moving his most valuable asset in the 15th overall draft pick, their third best prospect, and a solid bottom-six forward to get him.

Of all the things that plagued the Penguins in their qualifying round matchup against the Canadiens, defenseman Jack Johnson sits at the top of the list. Moving him this offseason has to be priority numero uno. Their best chance of doing so would have been to gift a GM like Bob Murray the 15th overall pick, so long as they take Johnson.

The Penguins don’t have that option anymore and they will likely have to waste more assets if they hope to move him. I’m not so sure they do.

Regardless, the Penguins will have a new winger on the right side of the lineup the next time they play, whenever that may be. Let’s take a look at what to expect from Kapanen.

On-Ice Impact

For those unfamiliar, a replacement-level skater is a player that provides zero or negative value to his team, thus making him replaceable. Kapanen has been a replacement-level skater four out of his five NHL seasons, all with the Leafs.

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Kapanen only played a combined 15 games in his first two seasons, so there isn’t much to see there.

His best season came during the 2018-19 campaign in which he scored 20 goals and added 24 assists in 78 games. He also had a strong isolated impact on goals scored, expected goals for and shot attempts for. He was slightly above average at limiting shot attempts against, though he was slightly below average at limiting the overall quality of those attempts.

This past season he was below average offensively and even worse defensively.

The drastic change in performance likely has a lot to do with the significant decrease in ice time Kapanen spent with Auston Matthews. In 2018-19, Kapanen and Matthews spent nearly 600 minutes on the ice together at 5v5 versus the 101 minutes they played together this past season.

With Kapanen and Matthews on the ice together at 5v5 during the 2018-19 season, the Leafs scored 3.86 goals per hour, exceeding their expected goals for per hour by more than an entire goal. When Kapanen was on the ice without Matthews, the Leafs scored just 2.36 goals per hour.

The story was similar this past season as the Leafs scored at a rate of 3.54 goals per hour with the duo on the ice. That rate falls to 2.24 when Kapanen was on the ice without Matthews.

WOWY stats are heavily criticized as they omit contextual factors, but this gives us an idea of what it might look like if Kapanen is playing on Crosby’s wing versus what it might look like if he’s expected to drive the third line on his own (he can’t).

Individual Talent

Kapanen is one of the league’s fastest skaters. His speed is without a doubt his most valuable asset, but he’s also a slightly above-average finisher.

Here’s Kapanen toasting Juuso Riikola (#FreeJuuso) for a breakaway goal against the Penguins this past season.

Over the past few years, the team I’ve watched the most other than the Penguins has been the Leafs. Kapanen’s speed is apparent nearly every shift. This makes him a fantastic transition player as he’s able to pick up speed through the neutral zone and blow by defenders as he gains the offensive zone. However, the gap between his speed and hockey IQ is a glaring issue.

If you follow any Leafs fans on Twitter, you’ve probably seen them complain about Kapanen blowing past a defender only to pull up at the circles and do absolutely nothing until everyone has caught up with him. It is not hyperbole to say he does this almost every time he leads the rush into the offensive zone.

Kapanen ranks in the 90th percentile amongst NHL forwards in zone entry carry-ins per hour, but only the 39th percentile in pass-entries per hour. He’s also strong at exiting the defensive zone.

The Penguins should urge Kapanen to shoot the puck more. This past season he took 7.18 shots per hour, down from the 8.7 he took the previous season. Getting him to shoot the puck more will theoretically cut down on the number of wasted rush opportunities from him pulling up and waiting for support. On top of that, he’s a decent finisher and would certainly see an uptick in the goal column if he were to shoot more.

Kapanen’s goal totals have slightly exceeded his individual expected goal totals each of the past three seasons.

He is especially lethal when taking wrist shots from right in front of the net. Check out the likelihood of a Kapanen wrist shot becoming a goal in front of the net relative to the rest of the league. (The darker the red, the more likely he is to score from that spot relative to league average. Darker the blue, less likely to score relative to league average.)

He was even more lethal in front of the net the previous season.

At this point in time I’m not sold on Kapanen as a top-six forward. He has the capability to be a difference maker with his speed and shooting talent, but I have some concerns about his defensive play as well as his ability to think the game on a level that will allow him to play with Crosby.

He hasn’t been a good special teams player to this point, either.

Rutherford has already made it clear that the Penguins view him as a top-six guy so I’m expecting the top two lines to look like this when next season starts:

Zucker-Crosby-Kapanen

Guentzel-Malkin-Rust

I really like the idea of Kapanen on the third line with Jared McCann as his center. I know everyone is ready to ship McCann out of town after his putrid second half, but he’s solid in his own zone and would benefit from a guy like Kapanen taking the brunt of transition duties for that line.

However, Kapanen had great offensive results with Matthews two seasons ago and I’m willing to give him a chance on Crosby or Malkin’s wing.

Let’s complain about Jack Johnson on Twitter together. Follow me @shireyirving.

All data via Evolving Hockey, Natural Stat Trick, Hockey Viz

Viz from Evolving Hockey, Hockey Viz, Charting Hockey

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