The son of a former NHL player with the pedigree of being a first-round pick and a flashy-styled game to match, Kasperi Kapanen’s image falls somewhere on the spectrum where extroverted meets bash.
Not in 2021-22 for the Pittsburgh Penguins, though.
“I kind of let them down this year,” Kapanen said of the organization after the season ended, “and didn’t produce as much as I wanted to.
“Hopefully after (what was) probably my worst professional year, I can bounce back and have a tremendous year next year.”
But will he even get the chance to do that for the Penguins?
A three-year, $9.6 million contract Kapanen signed while playing for the Toronto Maple Leafs is set to expire this summer. After scoring a mere 11 goals in 86 games (counting the playoffs) this recently-completed season, there is no guarantee the Penguins will want him back — particularly at his current average annual salary ($3.2 million). It’s possible the Penguins won’t even want to extend him qualifying offer that would be a fraction of that and allow them to keep Kapanen’s rights.
If that sounds like quite the fall for a player for whom the Penguins twice submitted first-round picks in order to acquire (as the No. 22 pick in the 2014 draft and six years later in a trade with the Toronto Maple Leafs), it is.
And by how Kapanen tells it, he knows.
“I have to work on kind of getting my swagger back and get back to the things that make me feel confident and work on those,” Kapanen said Tuesday, two days after the Penguins’ season ended via a Game 7 overtime loss to the New York Rangers.
Kapanen had no goals and three assists in those seven games, despite serving most of it in a second-line scoring role next to future Hall of Fame center Evgeni Malkin.
That followed a regular season that began with him solidly skating top-six forward minutes but by early spring had him in a bottom-six role. Aside from a hat trick Nov. 6, Kapanen had a goal in just eight other games this season. He had goal droughts of nine, 20 and 14 games. He once went 13 games without a point; later on, he had a stretch of just five points in 22 games.
Not the production commensurate with a player for whom former general manager Jim Rutherford kept submitting so many assets to acquire.
“I had really good games this year, and I had really bad games,” Kapanen said. “So (consistency) is something I need to focus on, and just somehow getting confidence back. Get my swagger back that I used to have. I just don’t think it was there this year — and it showed.”
Kasperi Kapanen “I need to get my swagger back,” said he lost it this season
Says he “loves it here” and wants to stay with the Penguins (he’s a RFA) pic.twitter.com/R3ItBgEayK
— Chris Adamski (@C_AdamskiTrib) May 17, 2022
It could be argued that Kapanen played some of his best hockey of the season during the playoffs. Over the course of the entire seven-game series, he was on the ice for only one goal against at 5-on-5.
Kapanen’s possession metrics for both team attempted shots and scoring chances relative to the opponent while he was on the ice at 5-on-5 ranked among the top six Penguins forwards in the playoffs.
“I would still like to produce a little more offensively,” Kapanen said. “But it thinks it’s in the right direction. … Just something positive, I guess, from this season.”
One of four of the Penguins’ usual top-six forwards whose contract is expiring, Kapanen said Tuesday that there has not yet been any discussions with the team about a contract extension.
Kapanen said that while his contract situation wasn’t a distraction, he did concede the mental part of his game wasn’t at its best in 2021-22.
“It was my fault,” he said, “to get into my own head.”
Kapanen’s psyche was damaged enough that he’s even questioning perhaps the biggest brand of his game — speed.
“I feel like guys are just getting faster year by year,” he said, “Either I am slowing down, or they are getting faster.”
Through it all, though, even during a four-minute session with potential reporters in which he repeatedly questioned his own confidence and pointed out holes in his play, Kapanen still reverted back to a boastful claim in what — potentially — might have been his final public words said as a member of the Penguins.
Kapanen has the raw talent to back it up, too.
“(He wants to) come out next year and try to be dominant,” he said. “I think I have all the tools for it. As long as, mentally, if I am better next year, I think I’ll be really dangerous.”
Chris Adamski is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Chris by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter .