Kapanen Shows Up Large

Kasperi Kapanen has his mind made up.
He no longer wants any part of life in the American Hockey League, even as good as it’s been to play for the powerhouse Marlies. He’s looking and acting and performing like a Toronto Maple Leafs now – a transition that was unmistakeable during Wednesday’s 3-2 shootout win over the Nashville Predators.
The 21-year-old is on his eighth recall over the last three seasons and displayed his growing confidence on a solo short-handed effort in the second period. First, he chipped the puck past a diving P.K. Subban and then he stopped to collect it at centre ice. That left a partial breakaway, which saw Kapanen fight off the backchecking Craig Smith before spinning and beating Pekka Rinne through the legs.
It was an act of defiance against a quality, organized opponent that wasn’t surrendering many scoring chances. As his coach sees it, this was a side of Kapanen not seen in previous NHL stints.
“Obviously, as you come here and think you’re ready and go back [to the AHL], you feel bad for yourself and wonder why you’re getting screwed – I mean, every player – who did it to you?” Mike Babcock said Wednesday morning. “Then you go back there, you figure it out, you get a little stronger, a little heavier, a little more determined. Even now when you’re back, you have a good game, and what do you do the next day? The pro comes in and gets better because he knows someone wants his job and he does it again the next day and he does that for 15 to 16 straight years.
“Then, the other guys just get feeling good and someone takes their job. He has to decide.”
The biggest differentiator for Kapanen arguably came last season when he embraced the challenge of killing penalties for the Marlies. He’s always had lightning speed and an offensive touch, but this gave him another tool with which to catch the coach’s eye.
Kapanen has seen a regular shift with Toronto a man down in the seven games since he was brought back up and produced the 2-0 goal against the Predators in that scenario.
The overmatched Leafs would not have earned a point with it.
Colton Sissons was gifted a free goal for Nashville when a point shot hit James van Riemsdyk and left goaltender Frederik Andersen out of position. Viktor Arvidsson tied it 2-2 just 25 seconds into the third period after some shoddy defensive zone coverage, and Toronto held on for dear life until overtime.
It said something that Babcock rewarded Kapanen with a coveted shift during the 3-on-3 session.
In an organization loaded with talented wingers, the challenge for Kapanen has always been stealing someone else’s job. He may finally have done it.
Source: Chris Johnston/Sportsnet
Photo: sportsnet.ca

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