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Key to Success for Penguins Winger Kasperi Kapanen Next Season

Can Kasperi Kapanen still be an integral piece to the Pittsburgh Penguins?

It's no secret that Kasperi Kapanen had one of the most disappointing seasons in recent history for the Pittsburgh Penguins last year. In a season where the Penguins counted on him to step up due to the absence of the team's best players, Kapanen instead put up a career-worst season scoring 32 points (11-21) in 79 games.

Many people want the Penguins to hand Kapanen his ticket out of Pittsburgh, but for now, it seems like the organization isn't keen on giving up on the 25-year-old former first-round pick.

Kapanen and the Penguins are awaiting an arbitration hearing to determine what the Finnish forwards next contract will be. Penguins general manager Ron Hextall has remained constant in his expression of Kapanen being one of hope this off-season. "We certainly expect more from him next season," Hextall said at his final press conference last season.

When he was re-acquired by the Penguins organization, Kapanen instantly stepped into a top-six role to play with either Sidney Crosby or Evgeni Malkin. It was a safe assumption as then Penguins GM Jim Rutherford paid a handsome amount to acquire him from the Maple Leafs.

However, at the end of his final season in Toronto, Kapanen was playing on their third-line, having a similar season to what we saw last year. So maybe that is just the case. Despite his raw talent and capabilities, maybe Kapanen is best suited for a bottom-six role.

As of now, the Penguin's bottom six could use all the help they can get. A group led by Jeff Carter and Teddy Blueger, the Penguin's forward depth features frighteningly few point producers. Like it or not, that is the potential that Kapanen brings to the team.

Giving up on the second generation NHLer would be foolish, considering his age (25 years old) and raw talent. Not to mention that it is likely that he will sign below his former cap hit of $3.2 million.

A lot of what happened to Kapanen last season seemed to be mental. Pulling up short in the offensive zone instead of using his speed to drive hard to the net and the hasty decision-making leading to turnovers are coachable errors. Establishing a lesser role for Kapanen early in training camp may allow him to settle in more and rebuild his confidence.

We've seen multiple instances where the Penguins have taken a subpar performer and turned the perspective of that player around by simply deploying them properly (not to mention solid coaching in general). The most recent examples of this, Cody Ceci in 2020 and Mike Matheson last year, made for some of the more integral parts of their respective teams.

Head coach Mike Sullivan has a history of successfully using a top-six talent on the team's third line in Phil Kessel. While no one expects Kapanen's output to come anywhere near Kessel's numbers in Pittsburgh, there is a commonality between the two that leads to Kapanen finding more success in a similar role.

Many people swore off hoping for Kapanen to contribute last season, and rightfully so. But if deployed properly, he could still be a contributing member of the Penguins next season and may even become the start of a turnaround for their bottom six.

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