The Pittsburgh Penguins will be without forward Beau Bennett for six weeks with a lower body injury, which by all accounts appears to be a leg or knee injury. It’s more bad news for the Penguins, but it could open up the window of opportunity for one Kasperi Kapanen.
The 18-year-old Finnish winger is the son of Sami Kapanen and was the top-rated European player at the 2014 NHL Entry Draft. Somehow the Penguins were able to get their mitts on him, selecting him 22nd overall, and he’s since been impressive at training camp.
Perhaps ironically, the injury to Bennett was the result of a collision with Kapanen. The Finnish forward, especially following the incident at camp, has to be certainly in the conversation for a top six role on the Penguins. General manager Jim Rutherford said that Kapanen will start camp with a shot at the main roster and a good turn at prospect game solidified this notion.
And head coach Mike Johnston is on board, too. Kapanen enjoyed a heck of a spin on Saturday night, potting a goal in Pittsburgh’s 2-1 victory over the Columbus Blue Jackets. He also drew a penalty in the first frame and showed good energy on a line with Brandon Sutter and Chris Kunitz.
“He could be a guy who could jump in on opening night,” said Johnston after the game.
The best part about having a guy like Kapanen is that he gives the Penguins options with or without the tandem of Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. Bennett is also one of those guys for Pittsburgh, but it looks like the Fin could be in for the time being. If he continues on the uptick, we could be seeing a lot of him.
Kapanen kicked things off in his career playing for KalPa, the Kuopio-based franchise in the Finnish Liiga. The club is owned by Kasperi’s father Sami as well as Kimmo Timonen and Scott Hartnell. Kasperi has played with KalPa for quite some time now and started out with the Under-16 affiliate where he led the team in goals.
Kapanen isn’t the biggest player in the fight, but he’s known for being a slippery little devil and that could serve him well. He’s a creative dude and he’ll win most one-on-one battles because he’ll outthink the opposition. He’s quick on his feet and he has a good shot that could use more thrust, but he can get that puck off well in traffic areas and is full of surprises.
Kapanen isn’t quite a lock for the Penguins, but opportunity is knocking for the youngster and this could be his year to start things off in the big leagues. If not, he’s still worth keeping an eye on.