Kasperi Kapanen skating at practice.

Kasperi Kapanen to make his Marlies debut

Brought over as part of the Phil Kessel trade, the 19-year-old is ready to make impact in Toronto

Nearly four months after being acquired  in a blockbuster deal that sent star winger Phil Kessel to Pittsburgh, Kasperi Kapanen will make his blue-and-white debut.

For the Toronto Marlies, of course.

The 22nd overall pick in the 2014 NHL Entry draft missed the club’s opening two games with an illness but is ready to go as the Marlies take on the Albany Devils Saturday and Sunday afternoon at Ricoh Coliseum. He will take the ice playing alongside centre Byron Froese and winger Zach Hyman.

“They’re really skilled, really fast, and they see the ice well and hopefully we play well the first game so we can have that line for a while,” said Kapanen, after practice on Friday.

Hyman and Froese played last weekend with Richard Panik to much success, and according to head coach Sheldon Keefe, Kapanen should fit right in with his new mates.

“That’s a lot of speed on the wings, and Froese is a guy that just gets to the net and he’s very smart and in the right spots all the time,” said Keefe, who’s club is 2-0 on the season.

“So we think this has got the makings of a really strong line that’s good on both sides of the puck. I think it’s a really good fit, for us and I’m interested to see how the three of them work together.”

Kapanen played most the last two season with Kalpa in SM-Liga, Finland’s top professional league. A video of a between-the-legs goal he scored in the playoffs two seasons ago has already gone viral. Last season, he scored 21 points in 41 games as an 18-year-old, good for sixth on what was a rather low scoring team. He then came over to North America and played out the stretch for the Penguins AHL affiliate, in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton.

He managed three goals and two assists in a seven game playoff series, after only playing four regular season games. The adjustment to the smaller ice surface in North America doesn’t seem to faze the youngster.

“Obviously it’s different playing here than back in Europe, but I think the style of game here is good,” he said. “It’s a fast paced game, I think that’s good for me.”

The Marlies boast a number of young prospects that Maple Leafs brass can contribute to brighter days for the big club some day, and Kapanen fits right in.

“He’s got a ton of speed, he’s on the puck and he’s got great skills with it, very dynamic player,” said Keefe. “(I’m) interested to see him at the AHL level, but there’s a lot going on there.

Kasperi Kapanen looking at the puck on the boards
Kasperi Kapanen handles the puck along the boards at Ricoh Coliseum, October 16, 2015. (Dan Russell/Toronto Observer)

“He’s a good player.”

In practice, Kapanen can be seen joking with Richard Panik, who played in 76 games last season for the Maple Leafs scoring 17 points.

Panik is one of only a few Marlies with significant NHL experience, and while the 24-year-old cannot be thrilled with his early-season demotion, he hasn’t let any disappointment stop him from mentoring his fellow teammates.

“He just leads by example and if there’s something that I need to ask it doesn’t even need to be like on the ice stuff, just off the ice tips you know, he’s there to help us,” said Kapanen. “It’s great to have him on the team.”

The Albany Devils come into town having lost their season-opener in Binghamton 4-1 last Saturday. Goaltenders Antoine Bibeau and Garret Sparks will split the two games for Toronto, as they did last week, with Bibeau up first.

Puck drops at 3 p.m.