Kapanen returns to Pens
By Will Graves
The Associated Press
PITTSBURGH — The retooling of the Pittsburgh Penguins’ roster has begun.
The team acquired forward Kasperi Kapanen from the Toronto Maple Leafs on Tuesday, reuniting the 24-year-old with the team that originally drafted him with the 22nd overall pick in 2014.
The Maple Leafs sent Kapanen, well-traveled forward Pontus Aberg and defensive prospect Jesper Lindgren to the Penguins for Pittsburgh’s first-round pick in this year’s draft as well as forward Evan Rodrigues, defenseman David Warsofsky and Swedish forward Filip Hallander.
“Super excited about that obviously,” Kapanen said. “It’s where it all began for me, which is pretty cool.”
Kapanen returns to Pittsburgh after being shipped to Toronto during the 2015 offseason as part of a deal that sent star forward Phil Kessel to the Penguins. Kapanen became a regular for the Maple Leafs during the 2017-18 season and posted career highs in goals (20) and assists (24) in 2018-19. Those numbers dipped slightly to 13 goals and 23 assists for Toronto during the 2019-20 season, which ended with Kapanen chipping in two assists during a qualifying round loss to Columbus.
“Puck wasn’t going in for me,” Kapanen said of the recently completed, pandemic-interrupted season. “Overall my game was iffy.”
The Penguins believe he can get it right by playing on one of the top two lines alongside either Sidney Crosby or Evgeni Malkin.
Pittsburgh is in the midst of a shakeup after getting ousted in the qualifying round by underdog Montreal. The Penguins opted not to retain three of coach Mike Sullivan’s longtime assistants, and general manager Jim Rutherford expressed frustration at how meekly his team played over its final four periods against the Canadiens.
With the core of Crosby, Malkin and Kris Letang all at least 33, Kapanen’s arrival gives the Penguins some fresh legs to work with as they try to keep the championship window open. Kapanen, who called it an “obvious honor” to play with Crosby and Malkin, considers himself a two-way player who can help the Penguins at both ends of the ice.
“Obviously I love scoring goals, who doesn’t,” Kapanen said. “I love playing with the puck and making plays, but at the same time I want to forecheck and be physical and be that guy to kind of get in your face a little bit and knock you off your game.”
Asked if he still had any of the gear he received when the Penguins drafted him, Kapanen joked he’d have to check with his mom. He’s grown used to being the subject of trade rumors in recent years and is relieved for the fresh start that awaits in a place where he knows he’ll be comfortable.
“I feel like I’m an energy player,” he said. “I just want to be part of the team and do anything possible to help our team win night in and night out … I don’t know what else to tell you guys, I’m just very excited to be back.”