Yesterday, Mark Roe, Craig Button, and Patrick O’Sullivan hosted Leafs Lunch, and a topic on their mind was recent call-up Kasperi Kapanen. Specifically, they talked about his upside, and the value of the American Hockey League as a developmental league. Below is a transcript, with a few of my thoughts interjected throughout.
For those who didn’t get the chance to watch, Kapanen played 11:38, took two shots on goal, threw two hits, blocked a shot and drew a penalty while posting a 57% Shot Attempts For at even strength.
Mark Roe: …Kasperi Kapanen, who will make his season debut tonight for the Leafs. Right now slotted to play on the fourth line. Here’s Mike Babcock, and I’m going to read some of his quotes from yesterday about Kapanen. “He’ll make Boyle and Martin way quicker. There’s no-one on our team that’s as quick as him. He’ll help us on the forecheck, real good on the penalty kill.” Let’s not put the bar up too high for him at this point, Craig, but Kasperi Kapanen, who’s essentially a point per game player in the AHL, he was out for about seven weeks, I want to say, with an injury. How would you classify him as a prospect with the Leafs right now?
Craig Button: “B” prospect. I don’t think he’s shown the consistency in his game to merit full-time NHL duty. It’s a big area that he’s got to work on. He can skate, when he’s on his game, his skating becomes a factor, but he’s inconsistent. He goes through long stretches of unproductive, indifferent play. He cannot have long stretches of indifferent and unproductive play. So that’s something that’s part of the maturing process, for Kasperi Kapanen. I’ll be real straight with you. A point a game in the AHL means nothing to me.
Every point-per-game 19-year-old AHLer in the Cap Era, and where they are this year and career-wise. Weird.
Patrick O’Sullivan: I said that yesterday!
Not shocking that O’Sullivan did so. Patrick is the only player under 21 on the list that’s retired today. His assumptions are likely based on his own experience as a young player, despite 2005/06 being a higher scoring season and the fact he was the third highest scorer on a loaded line with two veterans.
Craig Button: It means nothing to me. You know what? Dime a dozen. Point-a-game guys in the Amer- top point producers in the American League? Dime a dozen.
Starting to fall off a little here with the Age 21 list, but you’re still finding a lot of quality NHLers on this list. Hall, Krejci, OEL, Stone are just some of the few that made it real big.
Roe: So what would you want to see from Kasp-
Button: Consistency in his effort. Consistency in his purpose. He drifts. He gets into areas of the game and he becomes highly unproductive because he doesn’t know what to do.
Kapanen’s fewest points in a five-game stretch? Two. Fewest in ten? six. Fewest in 20? Seventeen. Longest points drought? Two games.
Button: He’s gotta figure out what his game is. He’s been an offensive player coming up, he’s not going to be an offensive player in the NHL, in my view. Mike Babcock’s g-I think he’s in a good spot, playing in that part of the lineup. He not playing ahead of Marner! He not gonna play ahead of, uhh…
Craig Button on Leafs Lunch saying Marner should play in OHL another year is hilarious.
— Stephan Julie (@StephanJulie) February 22, 2016
Craig Button says Marner should play next year with London? Kinda like what Coyotes did with Max Domi well see #leafs
— 💯🚨 (@FutureLeafs) February 22, 2016
Sadly, TSN.ca is kinda tricky to find older stuff on.
Button: Nylander! Like for.. so, you better figure out how to be a good, uhh, winger, winger, behind those two guys. You better, and he’s not better than Connor Brown. So he better figure out how to be a player. Simple as that.
Not sure why Button doesn’t think he’s going to be unable to surpass a couple of players that were worse than a dime a dozen for much of their AHL careers. Though, obviously, it would take something massive for him to catch up to Willie, and Breeze isn’t a total slouch either.
O’Sullivan: That sums it up.
Roe: Patrick’s just nodding at me going “Yup, yup, I like that”
Button: Well, if I hear one more time “point a game player in the American Hockey League”, like, I might just vomit. Like seriously, it means nothing.
Even if we get to the third year of CHLer eligibility for the AHL and fifth year for others, you’re still finding some long-term NHLers, some legitimate studs, and that literally every young point a game AHLer in the past decade has gotten their cup of coffee. Back to the studs. Eberle! Pacioretty! Johnson! Jultz! Goose! By the way, Brendan Leipsic’s about to join this list.
O’Sullivan: It’s not a good league, the American League.
Button: Go look at who the top scorers in the league are!
O’Sullivan: It doesn’t.. yeah, it doesn’t.. I mean..
Like most pro leagues used for development of graduated prospects, the top will often be filled with older players who sit on the bubble. That doesn’t make them bad players; in many cases, they’d likely be more useful than grinders who can’t score at all in the NHL.
As for why the list isn’t usually topped by high-scoring kids? They usually get called up before they can get to 76 games. William Nylander was on pace to run away with last year’s scoring title if it weren’t for the World Juniors, an injury in said tournament, and a call-up to the Leafs.
Roe: Would you have rather seen Leipsic get the chance?
Button: No, I don’t think Leipsic’s an NHL player either!
Guentzel’s putting together a hell of a year since being called up; he’s got 25 points in 35 games.
O’Sullivan: At least this guy, if he wants to, or he’s capable of, he can play on the fourth line for eight minutes, because he can skate. If he wants to play physical, and he wants to put the effort in, he can play that role. Leipsic? No chance.
Button: I totally agree with that.
Besides the eye-test clearly showing that Brendan Leipsic is capable of skating (he’s arguably the best Marlies player at carrying the puck), a look at least year’s numbers show that Leipsic was blocking more shots during his call-up than any regular forward was (4.24 blocks per hour played), and throwing more hits than all but two regular forwards (8.47 hits per hour, trailing Colin Greening and Leo Komarov). Leipsic, despite being a little guy, wasn’t scared to play physical or put in effort.
Roe: But is he a guy that frustrates you because his ceiling is so much higher due to the talent?
Button: Well, what is his ceiling? I hear about ceiling. Kasperi Kapanen, okay, is an inconsistent player. And through his inconsistency, he becomes highly unproductive. So what is his ceiling? To try to be consistent? Wow. Isn’t that what you have to be, to be a good NHL player?
Last year’s playing field may have been a bit skewed, though: one got to be “the guy”, the other played on a roster full of this year’s Leafs and AAAA vets. I’m gonna let the clock tick on this a little, though, even if I think Rantanen’s likely going to be the point scorer of the two long term for much of the same reason.
O’Sullivan: I think maybe, Mark, is the better question “Because he was drafted in the first round, people think that maybe he can be something.. ” I think at this point, a lot of people think he won’t be.
As it stands, Kapanen sits 30th in games played among players in the 2014 NHL draft. Sixteen of the 29 players above him have spent a chunk of time in the AHL this year. Fourteen of them are clearly worse than a dime a dozen, since Kapanen has a higher points per game than them. Only five of the fifteen full-time NHLers above him were picked below him; Brayden Point (79), Nikita Tryamkin (66), Christian Dvorak (58), Viktor Arvidsson (114), and David Pastrnak (25). Kapanen is the youngest of those five players, and most weren’t close to his selection range.
So, unless the point here is that Penguins should’ve picked Pastrnak, I don’t think we’re at the “Kapanen’s a failed draft pick” stage yet.
Roe: And let’s not forget that he’s part of the Phil Kessel trade as well.
Don’t worry. Nobody will ever let that be forgotten.
Roe: So you automatically think, if he’s part of a superstar going one way, you’re hoping to get at least a consistent NHL player coming back. Listening to you guys, the jury’s still out on that.
O’Sullivan: He played nine games last year, of the twenty at the end. Zero points. It looked to me this year in camp that he thought he was going to be on the team. This is a guy with nine games, and he’s done nothing in his career to think that. So, I mean, that’s all part of “What are you? What are you going to be? Can you do anything to make sure that you stay in this league every day?”
Button: That’s the key for him, so, they key is that he’s got to start with consistency. I call it constancy of purpose and consistency of effort. That’s what he’s gotta do. He’s gotta have a purpose to his game, and he’s gotta have a consistency to his effort. And if he does, then he might be because he can skate, and he’s got some physical capabilities, he can. But he hasn’t shown that.
O’Sullivan: Here’s the other thing too. They were grabbing guys off waivers left and right this year. So that means, was there any urgency at any point to get this guy up and playing? They wanted to see him do something better, do something differently in the American League, they weren’t even considering him.
At a certain point, I think the team backs away from rushing their prospect, especially when they’re having their first dominant professional year and really chipping away at learning the building blocks of their game. I think it’s possible to concede that a player has rounded out issues from previous parts of their career as they do it; a key part of objective analysis is evolving your conclusions as evidence changes.
What they’re doing here is doubling down, going with “if he’s so good, why wasn’t he called up sooner?”, and using talking points haven’t really applied to his game since the last time either of them showed up in the press box at a Marlies home game (Read: sometime early last season for Button, never for O’Sullivan.).
Roe: The injuries don’t help either.
Button: Before the injury he was a point-a-game player. He was a point-a-game player earlier in the year, and they didn’t call him up. The injury, the injury happened in the new year, and he was rolling along pretty good points wise. But they didn’t call him up at any point before the new year.
The Leafs also didn’t really have winger spots for much of the year. Their first and only call-up on the wing prior to this week was Nikita Soshnikov on November 1st, and the team was consistently treading the line on maximum roster size.
O’Sullivan: At the end of the day, he’s got a lot to prove to a lot of different people. His career is on the line.
O’Sullivan: This is another chance for him to play games that actually matter for his team, and show what he can do.
Way ahead of you. Looks like he had a good debut, too.