A look at Kasperi Kapanen And The Rest Of the Pens' Young Forwards by @MadChad and @H_P_Hockey - PensInitiative | Pittsburgh Penguins Blog | Rumors | News

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Thursday, July 24, 2014

A look at Kasperi Kapanen And The Rest Of the Pens' Young Forwards by @MadChad and @H_P_Hockey

The Pittsburgh Penguins' rookie development camp has come and gone, and now it's time to take a hard look at what transpired during the week. During the scrimmage, I had the privalage to check up with Tony Androckitis, who covers the Wilkes/Barre Baby Pens for HighlandParkHockey.com 

Always good to catch up with you Tony, just wanted to get your thoughts on a few things here.

1. Bill Guerin said that Kasperi Kapanen is even better than expected. What are your thoughts on Kapanen after seeing him at development camp, and do you think he could make the team this year, as well as make a small impact?

 Kapanen stood out often during the week, excelling in a wide variety of the drills including skating, puck control, passing and mini-scrimmage like 3-on-3's. Whether or not he can stand out amongst the NHL players at camp is a big test coming up for him, but ultimately I think he can at least make some competition amongst those in contention for an NHL forward spot in the Pens lineup.

 2. What is your overall impression of the current group of forwards that the Penguins have in their system?

 The first thing I noticed was the speed most of these forwards have. Matia Marcantuoni can fly. Conor Sheary (AHL contract) is also very quick. J-S Dea is a fast skater with a good set of hands. The guys from college turning pro - Bryan Rust (Notre Dame) and Scott Wilson (UMASS-Lowell) - bring a little more experience than the CHL players and both look to play a solid two-way game at the pro level this upcoming season. Anton Zlobin got to his game more consistently towards the end of his rookie season and had a great postseason. He's poised for a breakout season in his 2nd year this fall. A guy like Dominik Uher, entering his 3rd pro season, will be relied on more in the AHL Pens bottom six this season.

 3. Besides Kapanen, is there any other forward currently in the system that you think could possibly contribute at the NHL level this season? 

The Pens have guys with size and grit and a guy like Adam Payerl is a perfect example of both. Nicknamed "Beast", Payerl is a force in the corners and around the net. If the Penguins still have room in their NHL-bottom six, I think Payerl has as good a chance as any at cracking the NHL lineup this season.

Another guy who doesn't get a lot of attention that I think could push for an NHL job this year is Zach Sill. I'd also put Jayson Megna in that "under the radar" category of guys who could very well push for an NHL job right out of camp. I still think Zlobin could get a look when mid-season injuries arise as well if he has a fast start in the AHL like Brian Gibbons did last year.

 4. Who is to blame the most for the lack of production and development of young forwards over the last 6 years?

 I think there's a couple reasons why the perception of the forward depth in the organization had gone stale the past few seasons. For starters, the Penguins were using their top picks to select defenseman - Derrick Pouliot, Olli Maatta, Joe Morrow and Scott Harrington. Outside of the first and second round selections, picking in later rounds in the draft is more open and there aren't clear cut, sure-fire picks.

Another thing to consider is that the Pens traded one of their better forward prospects - Ben Hanowski - away in the Jarome Iginla trade. There has also been some lengthy injuries to prospects like Keven Veilleux (no longer with the organization) and Tom Kuhnhackl so I think it's more a culmination of events than blaming an individual or group of individuals on the Pens former staff.

 5. What are your thoughts on Beau Bennett? Let's assume he can actually stay healthy for a decent period of time, where does he and where should he be put as far as the lines go? Is this Bennett's last chance to make an impact with this team?

 Bennett was a difference maker most nights he wore an AHL uniform. There has obviously been injuries that have caused setbacks in his career, but that doesn't mean he is weak or frail. That is more simply a result of some bad work. The big if is if he can stay healthy, but he should be given a chance to play in the top six as he can skate and keep up with the offensively skilled guys and has certain creativity on the ice that you can't teach. Whether or not it's his last chance remains to be seen, but he is entering the last season of his entry level contract. It will certainly be interesting to see how he does this season.

You can follow Tony Androckitis on Twitter @H_P_Hockey and visit his website http://t.co/pK7hz89XSp

The Penguins' player development has been criticized by fans and media recently, and for good reasons: despite having a stockpile of talented young defencemen in their system (some of which could make an impact on the NHL team this year), the Penguins have failed to produce any legitimate NHL forwards through their own system over the past six seasons. While former General Manager Ray Shero did a great job at obtaining value through trades and signed several players to good value contracts, Shero truly failed to add any type of help in the form of young players through the draft. On top of that, even the young forwards that Shero did select via the draft haven't really panned out, which has killed the Penguins and their salary cap. 

The fact is, when the Penguins pay two superstar players like Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin a combined $18.2 million per-year under a salary cap, the team is going to have to try to get some young players to contribute.  The Chicago Blackhawks and Los Angeles Kings are good examples of championship-caliber teams getting reliable contributions from young forwards on entry-level contracts. The Penguins have had just two drafted forwards play over 40 NHL games since 2007. Those two players are Dustin Jeffrey (who is no longer with the team) and Beau Bennett, who has shown that he can play, but just cannot be relied on to be healthy. 

Here are the list of forwards that the Penguins have drafted by Shero and his staff since 2007, as well as how many games they played for the Pens during that time span (it is not pretty):

With the Penguins struggling to find any help at forward in the draft, they have been forced to spend money and draft picks on either trades and/or  signings of more expensive free-agents, some of whom (Jarome Iginla, Brenden Morrow, Douglas Murray) have been busts. The lack of production from young forwards has hurt the Penguins salary cap as well as their future drafts. When Pittsburgh is forced to trade first, second, and/or third-round draft picks, they assure themselves of a hard time finding quality forwards. 

To further compound their problems, the Penguins have avoided giving their young prospects a fair shake at the NHL level.  The organization took forever to bring up Bennett, and based on the way young players were treated under Shero and Dan Bylsma, I am not sure that a guy like Brandon Saad (a rookie that got top-six minutes for the Blackhawks) would even been playing in the NHL level had the Penguins drafted him. 

Thus, the Penguins' brass brought in the new regime, led by new general manager Jim Rutherford. Rutherford ended up keeping his first-round pick this year, selecting right-winger Kasperi Kapanen with the 20th overall pick in the draft. Kapanen, considered to be a top-10 talent by many scouts and analysts, is lauded by pundits as a great pick by the new Pittsburgh GM.

I recently had the pleasure of watching Kapanen play during the Penguins' development camp rookie scrimmage, and Kapanen showed that he has the goods. Kapanen looked like a man among boys during the scrimmage, which is ironic considering that last year Kapanen was playing as a boy among men in Finland's top hockey league.

Rutherford recently hired Bill Guerin as assistant general manager of the Penguins, working with he and Jason Botterill. Guerin has been raving about Kapanen all summer, telling me that Kapanen is "the real deal" and thinks that "Kapanen can make the team and [have] a serious impact as early as this upcoming season". 

Kapanen is the real deal. He has great hands, good speed, and a sneaky shot. Every time Kapanen has the puck, you notice him, because of the things he is able to do with it. Based on what I have seen, and taking a look at the Penguins current roster, I agree with Guerin in that Kapanen can make the team as well as have an impact, but I also think that Kapanen's roster inclusion would be the best possible outcome for several reasons.  The Penguins lost both James Neal and Jussi Jokinen, two of their top-three wingers from the last two seasons. They acquired Patric Hornqvist and now have Pascal Dupuis back in the picture, but the depth at wing still isn't ideal for a team trying to compete for a Stanley Cup. 

Without Kapanen in the picture, the Pens' four lines looks like this: 

Comeau-Goc-Adams-Jayson Megna 

That simply is not good enough for a championship team. I do not see how the Penguins can even have any type of real expectations to try to depend on Bennett as a top-six forward, based on his extremely fragile injury history. If Bennett doesn't work out, the Pens could be forced to use either Nick Spaling or Steve Downie on a line with either Malkin and/or Crosby, and that is not ideal at all. When you look at the Blackhawks, you see Jonathan Toews playing with guys like Marian Hossa, Saad, and Patrick Sharp. There is no way that Crosby and Malkin should be playing with Bennett, Downie, Spaling, or even Dupuis for that matter. Kapanen has more talent than all of those guys, and while it is not fair to put expectations on Kapanen to play in a top-six role this season, I do not think it is out of the question, and it would certainly be what is best for business.  Giving a kid like Kapanen a real chance would still have more upside than any other alternate option. Hell, last year Crosby took shifts with Joe Vitale and Tanner Glass, who, if you combined their hockey skills together, still wouldn't stack up to the skill-set that Kapanen possess. 

If Kapanen is able to make an impact this season, and perhaps play on one of the top-two lines, the Pens' depth chart instantly gets better. 


Looking past Kapanen, there really is not another forward in the system that can be counted on to produce at the NHL level this season, at least on a consistent basis, and definitely not on one of the top-three lines. The forward depth, or lack thereof, in the Penguins' farm system is still extremely bleak, with only one shining diamond in the ruff, Kapanen. If anything, fans should be at least be excited that a young 18-year old rookie forward with the skill-set of Kapanen could even get a real shot like this. You would not be able to safely say that if the Shero-Bylsma regime were still in the front-office. 

You can follow me on Twitter @MadChad412 https://twitter.com/MadChad412

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