Well fans of the Toronto Maple Leafs, it has been a fun start to the season, with the team having won eight of their first 11 games.
There are two Leafs players who I’m happy have finally been given the opportunities they deserve this season. They are Kasperi Kapanen and Frederik Gauthier.
Let’s start with Kapanen. He has thrived on one of the top offensive units, Auston Matthews’ usual unit, as he already has six goals and 10 points. As most Leafs fans likely already know, Kapanen is in the spot usually occupied, in the past, by William Nylander, because Nylander has not yet, as of press time, signed a new contract with the Leafs.
Before this season, Kapanen was mostly used on the fourth line, playing along side guys with less skill and more grit, such as Matt Martin. While he excelled in the defensive aspects on that line, there is no denying he has the tools of a scorer. Kapanen has great foot speed, and can create goal scoring opportunities where there don’t appear to be any. A great example of this was in Game 7 of last year’s first round playoff series between the Leafs and Boston Bruins where he rushed onto a misplayed puck, got past the Bruins’ defender, and deked out the Bruins goaltender to score a goal, giving the Leafs a 4-3 lead.
As he was one of the more exciting players to come out of the trade that sent Phil Kessel to Pittsburgh, it’s great to see him finally put in a position to use his offensive skills.
I’m also happy to see Frederik Gauthier as a mainstay on the team’s fourth line.
Gauthier was drafted by the Leafs in the first round of the 2013 NHL draft. Of, course as any first round pick will know, there are tremendous expectations put on a player chosen that high, and Gauthier has struggled the last few years to make himself a permanent member of an NHL team. Coming into this season, the highest number of games he had played in the NHL in a single season was 21 in the 2016/2017 season.
Despite the idea he will likely never live up to the expectation of being a high calibre player, as he only has recorded five points in the 45 games he’s played in the NHL, he does have the tools to be a fourth line centre. He has the size, he’s listed as six foot five inches tall and around 235 pounds. Gauthier is also Plus 2 in the plus/minus stat, meaning he’s been on the ice for more goals for than goals against. He’s also only 23 years-old, so he still has a lot of hockey left in him.
Hopefully when, or if, Nylander returns this season, head coach Mike Babcock will find a way to keep Kapanen in an offensive role. As well, hopefully Gauthier will be able to stick as a regular in the lineup for the rest of the season.
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Is a reporter for The Standard Newspaper, so if you see him, feel free to say hello. You can follow Dan on Twitter at @dancearnsy