Kasperi Kapanen appeared in 38 games with the Toronto Maple Leafs last season, but after watching several lineup regulars leave in the off-season, it appears he's poised to take a full-time roster spot this year.
Kapanen appeared in all seven of the Leafs' playoff games last season and is close to a lock for a bottom-six role after Tyler Bozak, James van Riemsdyk and Leo Komarov all departed the team in July.
“It’s not always easy to be patient,” Kapanen told the Toronto Sun Wednesday. “Everybody wants to play in the NHL, everybody wants to succeed and get better. But I think I’ve been patient and it’s starting to pay off.”
The 22-year-old scored seven goals and added two assists during the regular season a year ago while averaging 11:15 of ice time per game. He had a shorthanded goal in Game 7 of the team's first-round series loss to the Boston Bruins, his lone point of the series.
After the team signed centre John Tavares, Leafs head coach Mike Babcock revealed his top six, with lines of Auston Matthews, William Nylander and Patrick Marleau, and Tavares, Mitch Marner and Zach Hyman. Babcock has not spoken publicly about his plans for the team's bottom six and Kapanen insisted Wednesday it's not on his mind.
“I haven’t really thought about that stuff," Kapanen said. "I’m just excited to see all the guys, be on the ice and hang around the rink.”
Acquired from the Pittsburgh Penguins in July 2015 as part of the return for Phil Kessel, the 2014 first-round pick has spent parts of the past three seasons playing with the AHL's Toronto Marlies. In 55 career NHL contests - all with the Leafs - he has eight goals and 10 points.