It’s been an up and down 2021-22 season for Oliver Kapanen. The Finnish center has played in a few different leagues, with varying degrees of success. While his time in the Liiga was more of a washout, his play at Under-20 level, including the playoffs, stood out as the most positive. At this level, he posted 26 points (12G, 14A) in 21 games, which shows that he is a bit too good for this level.
We could also qualify as successful the two games of the Junior World Championship in December. There he played on a backline against tough competition, bringing out Finland’s third line with Brett Lambert, sacrificing his own success for that of the team.
However, expectations were higher for the 2021 second-round pick. He was unable to remain in KalPa’s roster and was loaned out to IPK in Mestis as well as Kärpät in Liiga, places where he experienced limited success in a limited time. One could draw comparisons to Joni Ikonen who struggled to get into KalPa before his injuries, and one has to wonder how KalPa’s development system works.
While highlighting the difficulties Kapanen has faced, it should still be pointed out that part of it all could be his transition to the bigger leagues. I watched him in the Four Nations tournament in November and it seemed to me that his confidence in attacking situations was gone. Either he was waiting too long for his shot or he was gripping his stick too tightly. His goal was to make the WJC team and he did, but I don’t think it was in the role he imagined himself, especially in the team that just won silver with him as a depth option.
Lack of pro minutes and low production probably brought him down, although when you look at the U20s he increased his production from 1.11 points per game to 1.25. Most voters thought it would have progressed even further with another year of development.
Despite taking first place in the Top 25 countdown, Kapanen belongs on the same level as Vinzenz Rohrer and Ty Smilanic, closer to being ranked 29th than 24th in terms of average ranking. Only three ballots, including the average community one, actually had him in the Top 25, though a fairly narrow range helped him edge out a few others behind him.
History of 25 under 25
Kapanen entered at number 16 in last year’s poll. It drops nine places, with the majority of voters having it in the mid-20s.
Story of #25
|2019||Gustav Olofsson / Jordan Harris|
|2016||Max Friberg / Jeremy Gregoire|
The one thing that stands out with Kapanen is his hockey IQ; he reads the game extremely well. He can be counted on in all situations, although the coaches seem to make sure he is on the ice for difficult missions like the penalty kill, late game situations and especially the face-offs in the defensive zone. While I praised his offensive game last year, this year it’s the opposite, as his defensive game has taken a leap forward.
Coaches like players they can trust in these situations. Unfortunately, that may lead to what we’ve seen this year, as Kapanen had to sacrifice his own attacking progress to benefit the team.
He still has a good wrist shot, and he still doesn’t use it enough. It’s been extremely evident that he’s not comfortable taking shots in the most meaningful games I’ve seen him play, and I guess that’s a trust issue.
His skating is still a bit stuffy and his stride is short. It’s not a natural move, and that’s where he really has to put in the effort to push it forward in his development. The lack of ankle and knee flexion causes him to stay straight and he loses some speed and acceleration because of it.
This also becomes clear at the end of a shift or in the last minutes of a game, as well as when playing a few games in a row with a short rest. Deficiencies in his skating affect his overall condition in these critical situations as a lot of energy is wasted with a less efficient stride.
The mental aspect of his game is also something that needs work. He’s struggled with what appear to be trust issues all year, and when it really counted in the decisive game of the U20 final in Finland, he was handed a 2+10 minute penalty for a kick to head/neck while the match was in progress. line. The captain has put his team in a difficult situation with this game. It may not be a persistent problem, and one can understand his frustration, but it is something to watch because this year will show if he has exploited his will to succeed in a more positive approach.
There’s still a long way to go for Kapanen before he’s ready for the NHL. He needs to get into KalPa’s Liiga team and start logging minutes with regularity. To do this, he will have to work on his skating and his confidence.
He should be playing at a professional level, having demonstrated his defensive attributes and general hockey acumen which should guarantee him a place in Finland’s top league this year. The fact that he has such a high hockey IQ means he has a chance to progress quickly. Even though he fell in this year’s rankings, it’s too early to fully count him, and his tight consolidation in the vote suggests that confidence in him is still quite high.
It will be an important year for the Finn, and if it doesn’t work out this year, a change of scenery might be the best option for his future progression.
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