Kasperi Kapanen is ready for a full-time on the Toronto Maple Leafs roster this season. While he has been working hard at proving to head coach Mike Babcock that he can provide great support on the penalty kill, a series of call-ups last season served as a 38-game audition for this coming campaign and other elements play into his favour. The departures of wingers James van Riemsdyk and Leo Komarov leave spots on the roster for Kapanen to fight for.
Komarov signed a $12-million deal with the New York Islanders at the opening of the free-agent market, which surprised his Finnish comrade.
“I saw that on Twitter, too. I called him five seconds after. I was kinda like, ‘What are you doing?!’” Kapanan chuckled, telling reporters about the incident. “But, nah, I’m happy for him. He wanted to stick in the league. I’m happy he got a good deal."
While Kapanen is thrilled for his friend, he knows it will be tough to face him on the ice, especially that the former Maple Leafs forward is already playing mind games with the 22-year-old.
"It’s not going to be fun to play against him. I know he was already trying to intimidate me over the phone."
“We lost a Finn, and then I think we got a couple more Swedes, so I don’t really like this setup right now. It’s very bad. Very bad.”
Kapanen remains curious about how Babcock will divide assignments and ice time in the bottom six. Firing just 1.45 shots per game but scoring 11 times in 68 big-league appearances, including playoff contests, Kapanen wants to shoot more and looks to improve his defensive game.
“[I wanted to] just defensively be better,” he said. “I know I’m going to be playing [penalty kill] and I want to be good at that. There are a lot of things I can be better at defensively, and offensively [I’ll] just try to make plays and shoot the puck a little more and try to score some goals.”
Despite being intimidated by his old friend, Kapanen is excited for the start of the season.
“I’m just happy to be in Toronto and happy to be at the rink,” Kapanen said. “You can feel the intensity start to pick up now. Everyone is [here] now pretty much except Willy, so next year I just want to be a more complete hockey player and see what happens.”
Photo Credit: Zuma Press