Twelve games into the season, Kasperi Kapanen has a team leading seven goals to his name and sits second in points behind Brendan Leipsic.
It’s statistics like these, allied with some visually impressive performances, that have many fans imploring a call-up for the Toronto Marlies winger.
In truth, it’s been a big step forward, after what was a rookie year of high’s, low’s and inconsistent play.
Kapanen managed just two points, both goals, in his opening seven games and was lucky to escape severe injury after Tyler Bertuzzi threw a number of punches before slew-footing and body slamming him.
Two long scoring stretches book-ended a memorable World Juniors for Kapanen, with the hosts claiming the gold medal.
The latter part of the season proved a struggle for Kapanen. Two separate stints for the Leafs, of four and five games respectively, would see him toil and appear out of his depth on occasion.
Pointless during his first go around in the NHL, Kapanen would also fail to register in his last six regular season AHL games and would be scratched for a single game of the opening playoff series with Bridgeport.
He would respond by coming to the fore in the Albany series, especially when the chips were down. Netting the vital tying second goal and providing the third for Carrick during a memorable game seven.
It was a poor finish to the year though, as the Hershey series would see Kapanen record a solitary assist in the five games it took for Toronto to be eliminated.
Kapanen was always going to be a long-shot to make the Leafs through camp and the focus was more on making sure he hit the ground running, heading into his second full professional season.
With no William Nylander, Josh Leivo, Connor Brown, Mark Arcobello or Zach Hyman on the roster, a golden opportunity to make an impact was presented to the former 2014 first round selection.
Looking at pure numbers alone, it’s not difficult to notice a vast improvement already.
Kapanen has already hit a third of last season’s even strength points total and equalled the five goals scored during 5 v 5 play.
On the man advantage, Kapanen has tied last years points tally of seven and has been directly involved in half of the Marlies power play goals. He’s an integral part of why Toronto’s power play looks vastly improved so far in 2016-17.
Kapanen has certainly been more willing to shoot at net, upping his 2015-16 average of 1.47 shots per game to 3.16 this year. That’s not withstanding the fact he’s hit the iron a handful of times and had some near misses.
Albeit it’s a small sample size but it’s not as if the winger has been extensively taking low percentage shots on net to bolster that statistic.
That’s somewhat born out by the positioning and type of goals Kapanen has scored.
A basic breakdown of each marker this season.
1) ES. Drove down the left wing with speed before cutting to the net, across the crease and scoring from in tight..
2) ES. A tap in from the blue paint after receiving a feed from below the goal line.
3) ES. A rush down the right side, followed by a wrist shot around the right face-off dot which found the far top corner.
4) ES. A one-time finish from the hash marks on a cross-crease feed.
5) PP. A slapshot one-timer from one knee, when positioned at the bottom of the left circle.
6) ES. Coast to coast rush. Deked through two defenseman in front of goal before scoring from the slot.
7) PP. One-timer slapshot taken from a few feet above the left circle.
The other noticeable trait about his goals this season, is the variety. Kapanen is far from a one-trick pony, making him a tough opponent to play against and goaltenders are never quite sure what to expect.
What cannot be found on the statistics page is Kapanen’s play on the penalty kill.
Now the Marlies PK has been average at times this season, but the Finnish forward has certainly been one of Toronto’s better player in that regard.
Utilising his speed to close down opponents and obstruct passing lanes, he’s also single-handedly turned defense into offense on numerous occasions, wasting precious seconds in the opponents zone.
With a little more luck he would have at least two short-handed goals to his name and assisted on as many.
The lack of patience in wanting to put Kapanen back in the show so quickly is somewhat mind boggling when you consider the following.
There currently isn’t a spot open for him to slot into unless you decide to send someone down.
It would also be a pointless exercise to have him playing in a role teamed with players who couldn’t benefit from his skill-set or vice versa.
With sixty regular season AHL games to his name, it’s only in his last twelve games that Kapanen has begun to consistently show the first real signs of domination in the AHL and give an indication as to why Pittsburgh chose to select him 22nd overall.
Kapanen remains one of the younger prospects in the organisation at the age of twenty and a July birth date.
A full season in the American Hockey League should not looked upon as a punishment, or treated with disdain by those from the outside.
There is still a ridiculous amount of time left for Kasperi Kapanen to make it to the NHL and it doesn’t even have to be this year.
As has been mentioned by the Toronto organisation on numerous occasions, player development is key, and they’ve no intention to have players bouncing between teams on a regular basis.
With confidence such a fickle beast, at this juncture it appears a better bet to allow Kapanen to build upon his strong start to the season and hopefully continue that through with a consistency of performance that was lacking during his rookie year.