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Penguins Roll the Dice on Kasperi Kapenen

Do the Pittsburgh Penguins have any reason to believe Kasperi Kapanen can turn it around?

The Pittsburgh Penguins have taken some big swings so far this summer. The acquisition of Jeff Petry, shipping out John Marino and Mike Matheson, and now they have signed Kasperi Kapanen to a two year extension worth $3.2 million each season. The restricted free agent recently filed for salary arbitration, but the two sides avoided any arbitration hearings by getting this deal done.

The general expectation was that Kapanen would make less on his new deal, but the cap hit is exactly the same as his previous contract. It's clear Kapanen failed to live up to expectations last season, but is there any chance he can turn it around with this new contract signed?

General Manager Ron Hextall signaled his belief in Kapanen to be a serious contributor for the Penguins with this two year extension. Based on his play last season, that belief is beyond optimistic. After impressing in a shortened first season in Pittsburgh, expectations were sky high. Kapanen fell well short of those expectations mustering only 11 goals and 32 points. He struggled to find chemistry again with Evgeni Malkin, and it was unclear where he fit amongst the Penguins forward depth. 

What makes Hextall and the Penguins so confident in Kapanen? Many teams would be more than willing to part ways after such a disappointing season. The Penguins, however, remain committed to their polarizing forward. 

One of the reasons the Penguins remain optimistic is Kapanen's approach and attitude. Since his arrival in Pittsburgh, Kapanen has brought a tenacious work ethic and an excellent attitude. He is one of the hardest workers off the ice and brings intensity with him every time he jumps over the boards. He may not produce the results desired, but head coach Mike Sullivan admires players with snarl and determination. 

Kapanen has also been very honest about his play. He has no problem calling himself out for playing poorly or stating he needs to improve. Back in February of this year, on the heels of Kapanen being dropped from Malkin's line multiple times, Kapanen didn't mince words when asked about it. He mentioned his frustration with himself. 

"It’s just totally been a struggle for me this year," Kapanen said. "I’m just trying to get some confidence in myself right now."

The honesty and the accountability are both great signs, showing Kapanen is committed to bettering himself as a player. 

The last reason the Penguins are keeping Kapanen around is quite simple: Kapanen is the fastest skater on the Penguins roster by far. Even before, as a member of the Toronto Maple Leafs, Kapanen's speed was his calling card. Sullivan loves to have speedy players that can pick up speed with the puck on their stick, and Kapanen does that with ease. Once he is in the offensive zone, he struggles to create chances, but he is one of the best players at skating through the neutral zone while building up speed.

The Penguins are taking a huge risk by extending Kapanen. Not only are they tight against the salary cap, they also have locked themselves in to another roller coaster two seasons with Kapanen. If he doesn't turn it around this season, the Penguins are looking at having one of the most expensive and ineffective bottom six players in the league.

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