Kasperi Kapanen will start this season for the Pittsburgh Penguins on the first line with Sidney Crosby and Jake Guentzel, coach Mike Sullivan told the team podcast Monday.
“We think he brings that speed dimension that I think is complementary to Sid and Jake’s game,” Sullivan told The Scoop podcast. “And he’s shown the ability to finish. He’s scored 20 goals in this league (2018-19). He has elite speed, he has good size, so he brings a size dimension (6-foot-1, 194 pounds) to that line as well. So when we play in games that tend to be heavy in nature, I think [Kapanen is] a guy who can help us in that capacity. We think his skill set could potentially be very complementary to Sid and Jake.”
Pittsburgh acquired Kapanen as part of a six-player trade with the Toronto Maple Leafs on Aug. 25. The 24-year-old right wing was the Penguins’ first-round pick (No. 22) in the 2014 NHL Draft and traded to the Maple Leafs on July 1, 2015. He scored 36 points (13 goals, 23 assists) in 69 games last season and 90 points (41 goals, 49 assists) in 202 NHL games, all for Toronto.
Penguins general manager Jim Rutherford told SiriusXM NHL Network Radio on Oct. 17 that he believed Kapanen would be a good fit with Crosby and Guentzel.
“We really hope that we’ve got the right chemistry for a line for Sid,” Rutherford said. “He has had really good chemistry with Guentzel here for a while, which will continue, but getting that right winger that works, and we’re hoping that Kapanen is the guy that can do that.”
Crosby scored 47 points (16 goals, 31 assists) in 41 games last season, missing 28 games recovering from core-muscle surgery he had Nov. 14, 2019. Guentzel scored 43 points (20 goals, 23 assists) in 39 games. He had shoulder surgery Dec. 31, which ended his regular season.
When together, Crosby and Guentzel played mostly with Dominik Simon at even strength last season. The season prior, when Guentzel scored 40 goals and Crosby 100 points, Bryan Rust was often their linemate.
“I don’t think it’s any secret that speed has been part of the fabric of the identity of this group,” Sullivan said of Kapanen. “We’re trying to surround our core with as much speed as we can, and he’s going to help us in that capacity. He has some finish, he’s a good penalty killer, he’s got good size, so he makes us a little bit bigger, which is an area we think we could improve. He checks a lot of boxes.
“We think we’ll start [Kapanen] with Sid and Jake. We’ll see how it goes and if we have to make adjustments, we’ll make adjustments. But when you look at our top six right now with Sid, Jake and Kapanen and then Geno (Evgeni Malkin), Rust and (Jason) Zucker, it’s a pretty solid top six.”
The Penguins (40-23-6, .623 points percentage) finished fifth in the Eastern Conference last season but lost in four games to the Montreal Canadiens in the best-of-5 Stanley Cup Qualifiers. They scored eight goals against the Canadiens after averaging 3.20 goals per game in 69 regular-season games.