Finland's Kasperi Kapanen entered the 2014 NHL draft as arguably the top international prospect available. That's why it comes as a bit of a surprise that he was available when the Pittsburgh Penguins selected him with the 22nd overall pick. The NHL indicated the pick:
Kapanen is somewhat diminutive in size at 5'11" and 180 pounds, but he makes up for it with blazing speed, quick hands and a high hockey IQ. Kapanen was born to be an NHL player in many ways based on his roots alone.
As pointed out by NHL public relations on Twitter, Kapanen's father, Sami Kapanen, was a longtime NHL player who enjoyed a great deal of success:
No. 1 ranked Inter. skater Kasperi Kapanen (Sami) & No. 2 William Nylander (Michael) have fathers w/ NHL experience. http://t.co/dXdiUwAYaI— NHL Public Relations (@PR_NHL) April 8, 2014
The elder Kapanen spent 12 NHL seasons with the Hartford Whalers, Carolina Hurricanes and Philadelphia Flyers, racking up 458 points in 831 games. If Kasperi is going to have success at the NHL level, then he mustn't look any further than his dad for inspiration since he managed to carve out a great career despite being on the smallish side.
As much potential as Kapanen possesses, it's safe to say that his draft stock took at least a slight hit over the past year. He played in Finland's top league, SM-liiga, at the age of 17, which is no small task. Unfortunately, though, he and his team KalPa Kuopio struggled through a less-than-stellar campaign.
Kapanen accrued just 14 points in 47 games for KalPa, but the new draft pick is looking ahead rather than in the rear-view mirror, according to Adam Kimelman of NHL.com.
"It was such a rough season for us," Kapanen said. "I'm just really looking forward to next season and be really good there. Just forgetting about last season."
Kapanen clearly intends to return to SM-liiga for the 2014-15 season, which may have had some impact on his draft status as well. Per Kimelman, Kapanen may very well stay in Finland even beyond the upcoming season:
Funny comment from No. 1 Euro draft prospect Kasperi Kapanen. Has 2 years left on KalPa contract but NHL is in future. Would he leave early?— Adam Kimelman (@NHLAdamK) June 3, 2014
Some organizations might rather have Kapanen developing in North America in the AHL, but a couple more years in Finland could very well be the best thing for him. SM-liiga is arguably the fourth-best league in the world behind the NHL, KHL and Swedish Elitserien, so Kapanen will face a fairly high level of competition.
Staying in Finland would allow him to develop new skills and improve upon the ones he already possesses. According to ISS Hockey, there is already a lot to like about Kapanen from an offensive perspective:
Kapanen's defensive acumen isn't elite by any means, so he will have to improve significantly in that area before he can become an effective NHL player. His father was never the greatest defensive forward either, but he was good enough in that area to get by.
Defensive play and physicality are hugely important in the NHL, since it is so difficult for offensive players to create space and separation. Speed still kills, though, and Kapanen has that in spades.
How good of an NHL player will Kapanen ultimately become?
Several players selected in this draft may very well step in and play in the NHL right away, but Kapanen isn't part of that group. Kapanen has all the talent in the world, but he simply isn't ready to make the jump to the NHL from a physical standpoint right now.
Continuing to play in SM-liiga will allow Kapanen to develop his body while still playing against some excellent hockey players. He is very much a work in progress and a developmental prospect, but he could very well end up being one of the top players to come out of this class.
Patience will be a virtue when it comes to Kapanen's path to the NHL. As long as he isn't rushed or pressured to leave Finland before he is fully ready, he has all the tools necessary to be a fantastic NHL player.
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