Kasperi Kapanen is headed back to Pittsburgh. The speedy winger was originally drafted by the Penguins back in 2014 but never made it to the big club; he was traded to Toronto as part of the Phil Kessel deal in 2015.
In this new swap, the Penguins get Kapanen, center Pontus Aberg and defenseman Jesper Lindgren, while the Maple Leafs receive prospect center Filip Hallander, winger Evan Rodrigues, defenseman David Warsofsky and a first-rounder (15th overall) in the 2020 draft.
Since Kapanen is the most prominent NHLer in the trade, let’s start with Pittsburgh here. It’s no secret GM Jim Rutherford is trying to extend his team’s Stanley Cup window as long as possible during the Sidney Crosby/Evgeni Malkin era and that has meant raiding the futures pipeline by any means necessary.
Kapanen has the skill set to help the Penguins right away, as he is fast and plays with some jam. He can kill penalties and would be the sort of middle-six winger that Carl Hagelin was for Pittsburgh when the Pens won back-to-back championships in 2016 and 2017. Kapanen does have one 20-goal NHL campaign under his belt already, but he slid back a bit this season and his inability to finish is something to keep any eye on – he gets tons of offensive chances thanks to his speed and shorthanded smarts, he just doesn’t bury a lot of them. Now, you can wonder what he’d do on a line with Malkin or Crosby, but Toronto has some pretty good centers themselves.
In Aberg and Lindgren, the Penguins are getting organizational depth, at best. Aberg has been a very good AHLer and part-time NHLer for years, but he’ll be playing in the KHL with Traktor in 2020-21. Lindgren, 23, is a slight D-man who was getting used to the North American game in the AHL with the Toronto Marlies, but is slated to play back in his native Sweden for Modo next season (which makes sense, given that the AHL season has been delayed by months).
What is surely vexing about this trade for Penguins fans is that Rutherford gave up yet another first-round pick and one of the team’s best prospects in Hallander for another quick fix. Pittsburgh has only made two top-50 selections in the past five drafts: Samuel Poulin went 21st overall last year and Daniel Sprong (no longer with the organization) went 46th back in 2015. The last first-rounder before Poulin? Kasperi Kapanen.
Now, in what promises to be a very good draft, Pittsburgh doesn’t have a pick until the third round, having already traded away their second-rounder to Vegas for expansion draft considerations.
As for Toronto’s haul, let’s start with the prospect they received in Hallander. A sturdy two-way winger who wins board battles and skates well, Hallander has been held back by injuries, but the Penguins were hoping he could turn into a Patric Hornqvist-type of player if Hallander unlocked a little more offense. He’s slated to play in Sweden again in 2020-21 for SHL Lulea and since he’s only 20, that makes sense.
Rodrigues and Warsofsky were essentially ballast in this deal. Rodrigues, a pending restricted free agent this off-season, may not even be qualified by the Leafs, while Warsofsky would be a nice veteran fit on the AHL Marlies.
On top Hallander, the obvious win here for Toronto is the first-rounder. Having lost their original selection in the Patrick Marleau deal with Carolina, the Maple Leafs now bounce back into the top-15 thanks to the Kapanen trade. The value of a first-rounder speaks for itself, but here’s an intriguing question: Is there someone specific that GM Kyle Dubas and his staff covet that would not have been available in the second round?
Dealing Kapanen also alleviates some of Toronto’s cap crunch as the Maple Leafs need to address other parts of their roster in the off-season. The development of nifty Nick Robertson during the Return to Play camp and qualifying round gave the Leafs a cheaper (because Robertson is on his rookie contract) option on the wing and a more skilled one, at that.
Now the mission for Dubas will surely be to seek out more NHL talent on defense. More moves will likely have to occur in order for him to make the money work, but he got the ball rolling with the Kapanen move.