It was an up-and-down 2021-22 season for Oliver Kapanen. The Finnish center played in a few different leagues, with varying degrees of success. While his time in Liiga was more of a washout, his play at under-20 level, including the playoffs, stood out as the most positive. At that level, he registered 26 points (12G, 14A) in 21 games, which shows that he is too good for that level.
The two Junior World Championship games in December could also be noted as successful. There he played in a tight line facing stiff competition, featuring Finland’s back row with Brett Lambert, sacrificing his own success for the team’s.
However, expectations were higher for the 2021 second-round pick. He was unable to stay in KalPa’s lineup and went on loan to IPK in Mestis, as well as Kärpät in Liiga, places where he saw limited success at one time. limited. One could draw comparisons to Joni Ikonen, who struggled to get into KalPa before his injury, and one has to wonder how KalPa’s development system is working.
While pointing out the struggles Kapanen has faced, it still has to be noted that part of all of this could be his transition to the bigger leagues. I saw him at the Four Nations tournament in November and it seemed to me that his confidence in offensive situations was gone. Either he waited too long with his shot, or he seemed to be squeezing his stick too hard. His goal was to be part of the WJC team and he got it, but I don’t think it was in the role he envisions, especially on the team that just won silver with him as a depth option.
The lack of professional minutes and low production probably caused him to drop, although when you look at the U-20s he increased his production from 1.11 points per game to 1.25. Most voters thought it would have made more progress 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 29th than 24th in terms of their average ranking. Only three ballots, including the community average, actually had him inside the Top 25, though a fairly tight rank helped him edge out a few others behind him.
Top 25 Under 25 History
Kapanen made his entry at number 16 on last year’s ballot. He drops nine places and most voters have him in his mid-20s.
History of #25
|2019||Gustav Olofsson / Jordan Harris|
|2016||Max Friberg / Jeremy Gregoire|
The one thing that stands out about Kapanen is his hockey IQ; he reads the game extremely well. He can be relied on in all situations, even if coaches seem to make sure he’s on the ice for tough tasks like penalty kicks, endgame situations, and especially faceoffs in the defensive zone. While I praised his offensive play last year, this year it’s the complete opposite as his defensive play has taken a leap forward.
Coaches love players they can trust in those situations. Unfortunately, it may lead to what we saw this year, as Kapanen had to sacrifice his own offensive progress to benefit the team.
He still has a good wrist strike and he still doesn’t use it enough. It’s been extremely apparent that he’s not comfortable taking shots in the most significant games I’ve seen him play, and I guess it’s a confidence issue.
His skating is still a bit forced and his stride is short. It’s not a natural move, and this is where he really needs to push himself further in his development. The lack of ankle flexion and knee flexion causes him to stand upright and lose a bit of speed and acceleration because of it.
This is also evident at the end of a turn or in the final minutes of a match, as well as when playing a few matches in a row with little rest. Deficiencies in your skating affect your overall fitness in these critical situations, as a lot of energy is wasted with a less effective step.
The mental aspect of his game is also something that needs work. He has struggled with what appear to be confidence issues all year, and when it really mattered in the decider of the U20 final in Finland, he was handed a 2+10 minute penalty for a blow to the head/neck when the match was on. the line. The captain put his team in a difficult situation with that play. It may not be a persistent problem, and one can understand his frustration, but it is something to watch out for, as this year he will show whether he has harnessed his drive for success into a more positive approach.
There is still a long way to go for Kapanen until he is ready for the NHL. He needs to get into the KalPa Liiga team and start logging minutes regularly. To do this, he will need to work on his skating and his confidence.
He needs to play at a professional level, having shown the defensive attributes and general hockey sense that should guarantee him a place in Finland’s top league this year. The fact that he has such a high hockey IQ means there is potential for rapid progress. Even if he fell out of this year’s rankings, it’s too early to rule him out entirely, and his close grouping in the vote suggests faith in him remains fairly high.
It will be an important year for the Finn, and if it doesn’t work out this year, a change of scenery could be the best option for his future progress.
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