AHL all-star Kapanen antsy about Leafs future
Date: Jan 12, 2017
In a season in which the Maple Leafs’ youth movement appears to have been worth the wait, it’s worth noting the organization has two other youngsters — beyond Auston Matthews — heading to an all-star game.
Kasperi Kapanen and Brendan Leipsic, both forwards who got a taste with the Leafs last year, are heading to the American Hockey League’s extravaganza on Jan. 29 in Lehigh Valley, Pa.
It’s a nod to a pair of players who have not been forgotten by the Leafs, even if they might feel like they have been left behind with the wave of former Marlies teammates — such as William Nylander, Connor Brown, Zach Hyman and Nikita Soshnikov — who have already moved up.
“You always want to play in the NHL,” said Leispic, who went into Wednesday’s action with nine goals and 23 assists. “Doesn’t really matter how you get there, as long as you get there. A lot of those guys are having really good years. They’re playing the right way.
“I feel like I’m a confident guy, and I feel like when I get the opportunity I’m going to make the most of it and make a good impression.”
Kapanen, perhaps understandably, sounds surly when discussing his NHL prospects.
“Right now, I’m a Marlie,” said Kapanen, who has racked up 16 goals and 16 assists. “To be honest, I don’t watch Leaf games. I don’t really follow them. I’ll ask Willie (Nylander) how he played, that’s about it. If they’re doing well, they can do whatever they want.
“This year has been good for me. I think I’ve been taking some big steps forward. I’m excited to see what happens in the future.”
Last season, when the Leafs used a total of 46 players. Kapanen got into nine games with no points. Leipsic appeared in six (one goal, two assists).
Leipsic and Kapanen are the forwards Marlies coach Sheldon Keefe relies on the most.
“I certainly know they’re happy for their friends,” said Keefe. “It’s only natural to hope you get your opportunity to get up there. It hasn’t happened. The Leafs have been incredibly healthy. It’s on the players here to keep working. It’s more about recognizing you’re part of the plan.
“Kapanen really knows it. He feels it. He knows what he’s working on in his game is going to help him in the future.”
Kapanen plays in every situation for the Marlies, including penalty killing.
“I’ve seen a lot of maturity in him,” said Keefe. “On the ice, to recognize and embrace the opportunity to be really dominant in more areas than point production and offence. He’s been great at playing against other teams’ best players. He’s been great at tracking. He’s been great at penalty killing, at all areas of the game where he can utilize his speed without the puck. Those are things we tried to tap into last year.”
As a young, highly-skilled prospect, Kapanen focused more on offence last season.
“He has an elite asset, which is his speed,” said Keefe. “There’s a lot more to the game where you can utilize that than creating offence. He has learned that.”
Leipsic is also trying to play better without the puck.
“He’s another guy who took the advantage of the opportunity to be a go-to player,” said Keefe. “There have been a lot of games this season where he has been in full control of the hockey game. We’re continuing to be on him on his play without the puck, and (to) make good decisions with it.”
Both continue to believe they’ll get their chance in the NHL, and impress when they do.
“I feel like my offence is going to be there,” said Leipsic. “It was last year and it carried into this year. But it’s my play without the puck, and being able to be trusted by Sheldon and (Leafs coach Mike) Babcock when I get that opportunity — that they’ll be able to put me out there and they won’t have to worry about me missing an assignment.”
As for Kapanen: “I’m trying to be better at everything. I try to play every game as hard as I can and have a good time doing it. I don’t really want to look into the future too much; I’m not that kind of guy. I wake up in the morning, come to the rink, have a great time with the guys. We’ll see.”