Kasperi Kapanen can be a difficult player to evaluate – he will dazzle then frustrate, surprise then disappoint, sometimes in the course of a single shift. He’s had strings of games where he looks to be a first line winger, like at the start of the 2018-19 season where he stepped into that role for William Nylander while he negotiated his contract extension. Other times he struggles to showcase the hockey sense and awareness of a true top 6 winger, or disappears from games entirely.
These ups and downs can make it difficult to assess his value to the Leafs, and potentially as a trade piece to free up cap space and fix the hole of the right side of the defense. His name was floating around before the trade deadline (however, the Leafs were not fielding offers per Chris Johnston), and given the Leafs are so tight against the cap, they will likely need to move salary if they play to resign Mikheyev and Dermott. This post will look to summarize Kapanen’s body of work thus far, in effort to illustrate his value to the Leafs roster, or as an outgoing asset.
Is Kapanen at top 6 winger?
Kasperi Kapanen’s stock has been swinging up and down since the day he was brought over in the exchange for Phil Kessel. He appeared to need some more time to develop following his 2015-16 season with the Marlies where he put up 25 points in 44 games. The next year he burst onto the scene, with nearly point a game production. We’ll start our official analysis of Kapanen the following year, where he had another strong start with the Marlies and was then called up to the Leafs to play 4th line minutes (Leafs fans won’t forget his double OT winner against the Capitals in the first round of the playoffs).
The chart below displays Kapanen’s individual “production” as the blue dot – in the context of forwards who have played at least 30 games as the grey dots. For the most part, Kapanen appears slightly above the middle of the distribution – his production is above average but falls short of elite. The displayed ranks help here – for the metrics we’ve included Kapanen appears to be a second or third line winger – if we call the top 90 forwards first liners, the top 180 second liners, and so on. Despite the relative consistency of his performance – Kapanen had a slight downtick in production across these metrics. He appears to be shooting less, as evidenced by his individual Corsi For (iCF), and generated less quality chances as shown by slightly lower individual expected goals (ixG) – we’ll dig into this more in a moment.
Shift towards Kapanen’s on-ice results, and the decline is more noticeable – Toronto generated more offense while Kapanen was on the ice last year, in comparison to this year. Of course, there are reasons outside of Kapanen’s individual play that could explain these numbers – specifically with regard to his linemates where he has bounced around several line combinations this year, and other larger team effects that impact on-ice numbers. We could go into more detail here but will leave it open for another potential blog post.
These figures line up reasonably well with my eye-test – Kapanen has shown bouts of confidence in his play, but can also disappear at times, and lacks the hockey IQ that results in dominant products and on-ice results. He has gamebreaking speed that can help relieve pressure breaking out of the defensive zone, and often results in odd man rushes or breakaways. This ultimately results in a player who is good, not great, with potential to improve if he can take his offensive awareness and creativity to the next level. As a quick aside, my perception is that this is generally a more difficult step to take than the opposite – a player who needs to develop raw skill or physically, but already has playmaking talent.
Riding the Waves
Now that we’ve roughly established Kapanen’s value to the Leafs – we’ll take a look at moving trends of these metrics in attempt to draw some conclusions about his consistency as a player, and implications for his future development. The two charts below display moving averages of shot and expected goal generation and largely confirm our above observations – after a burst of highly productive offensive play at the start of the 2018-19 season, Kapanen has struggled to replicate this production for prolonged stretches of play. This has implications for his potential value as a trade, and could be a signal that his upside to a potential suitor could be highest now, while his upside is still up for debate. Kapanen has the raw talent to prove this statement false, but his play style an offensive stagnation could prove otherwise.
I hope you enjoyed my first piece here at The Leafs Nation – credit to EvolvingHockey.com for the data used to generate the charts and analysis.