With their third pick in the 2021 NHL Draft, the Montreal Canadiens jumped across the Atlantic to Finland to select Oliver Kapanen who spent his last season playing for KalPa’s U20 team. While Riley Kidney has drawn praise for his playmaking and on-ice vision, Kapanen is all about putting pucks in the net. He put that skill on display when he led the U20 league in Finland with 25 goals in 37 games played. His strong play also earned him a loan in the second-tier Mestis where he put together a strong five-game showing as well.
Birthplace: Timrå, Sweden
Date of birth: July 29, 2003
Weight: 171 lbs.
Team: KalPa (Liiga)
With the strong showing from Cole Caufield across all leagues this year, and with Jesse Ylönen making a very good impression in the AHL, the Canadiens went back to the sniper well with their selection. Kapanen clocked in at 67th in the EOTP consensus rankings, so this was far from a reach and brings a lot of potential upside to the Montreal prospect pool.
Kapanen’s whole game is predicated on becoming a rush threat into the offensive zone and utilizing his strong shooting talent to terrorize goalies. Much like some of the prospects we profiled, Kapanen has never seen a shot he didn’t like, and once he hits the dots in the offensive zone, there’s a 100% chance he’s going to be putting the puck on the net instead of passing.
Kapanen loves to score from range. Elite Prospects notes that his shooting mechanics allow him to generate a ton of downward force into his stick. He turns that into a lot of goals from a distance, especially when defenders give him the space to walk into the zone and fire his shots on net. He doesn’t just fire blindly into the zone either. Kapanen will circle to find an opening, or move into a spot to receive a feed from a teammate and put it on the net.
Despite being more slight of frame, he will also get to the net-front area for deflections or to clean up the rebounds that his teammates create. He can also activate in mid to close range with his wrist shot to make himself a threat from any range when he gets the puck in the offensive zone.
Those instincts also can apply to Kapanen’s playmaking game as well. Despite his penchant for shooting first, he is adept at drawing in the defence before dishing the puck off to an open teammate to create a chance.
However, as with every prospect, there are some flaws. They aren’t crippling, but they’re things that will need to be worked on if he hopes to become an everyday NHL player. Chief among these concerns from scouts is that Kapanen’s skating requires a lot of work on a mechanical level. It isn’t unfixable, but his current skating stride robs him of explosiveness which doesn’t allow him to find another gear to separate himself from defenders with consistency.
He also doesn’t do well working inside as he attacks with the puck. For a player who thrives on the rush play, this is something he’ll have to work on this to improve his offensive zone effectiveness as he moves up against tougher competition.
Improving that skating should also help with his defensive flaws because there are plenty of those warts present as well. It’s not that Kapanen doesn’t do anything in the defensive zone, it’s that he does just the bare minimum and could very easily do much more. He tends to be too passive and oftentimes drifts into the space being occupied by one of his teammates, which tends to open up more space for attacking players. With some improvements to his skating, Kapanen could effectively close down lanes and help him become a more complete player overall.
The real question lies in where Kapanen will end up in the forward group as he played both centre and wing last season. If his skating or defensive warts don’t improve it’s likely his future will be on the wing where he can be used as a rush option while limiting his defensive workload. He could easily follow a path similar to his cousin Kasperi Kapanen, and that isn’t a bad thing considering Kapanen’s spot as an everyday NHL player right now.
It’s not a perfect comparison, but the cousins started at roughly the same spot in their draft year, with Oliver having a slight edge. Part of that comes from Oliver’s ability to thrive as a power-play threat; he was a huge part of the 1-3-1 setup on KalPa’s U20 squad. As he matures and enters into tougher leagues it will be interesting to see if he can earn the same opportunities on special teams.
Kapanen has been an extremely fast riser in scouting circles because even with his flaws, the offensive tools he possesses overshadow them. It’s a true home run swing by the Canadiens, and even if he doesn’t fully iron out the defensive issues, the offensive upside still makes this worthwhile.
And if the Finnish forward continues his incredible growth as he has over the last 18 months, the Canadiens may have found a massive steal at the end of round two.