Oliver Kapanen was picked by the Montreal Canadiens right at the end of the second round of the 2021 NHL Draft. While the Swedish-born Finnish winger didn’t shine on the biggest national stage in Finland last season, he was over a point-per-game player in the U20s and in Finland’s second divison, Mestis.
He was also a member of the Finnish Under-18 Team in the recent World Championship where his country finished fourth, behind Canada, Russia, and Sweden. However, in the four games that Kapanen played in the tournament, he scored no points. He also sustained an injury and didn’t play all the games. He centred the third line, a line that consisted of three players that usually plays centre: him, Sisu Yliniemi, and top 2022 NHL Draft prospect Brad Lambert.
During the Liiga pre-season, Kapanen has played both fourth-line centre and second-line winger for KalPa. It remains to be seen how Coach Tommi Miettinen will use the Canadiens prospect this winter.
In his first season in the Top 25 Under 25, Kapanen comes at 16. He is closer to the two prospects ahead of him than to the one below him (fellow 2021 second-rounder Riley Kidney), and these three prospects at 14, 15, and 16 are a tight group that sits on its own plateau in the rankings.
Since we have back-to-back selections from the draft in consecutive spots in the countdown, it’s interesting to look at their relative positions on each ballot. Eight of the 11 panellists had him above Kidney, and by from one to eight places.
History of #16
What stands out is Kapanen’s ability to read the game. He is one of those high hockey IQ picks that Montreal and many other clubs like to take a chance on. This understanding of the game serves him well both on offence and defence, with a strong 200-foot game. However, it is in the last third of the ice where he really stands out. Ha can help the cycle, work the puck to the net, and score goals, more often than not from within the home-plate area.
He has a good wristshot, but he underutilizes it. He can place the shot well and with a high degree of accuracy. It seems that he needs to get more confident using it, but it will be a big step up to face Liiga goalies and with less time to set it up. Along with the usage down the lineup, one would have to expect that he won’t score many goals as he adjusts to the big leagues this season, but he has the shooting ability to contribute goals at any level.
While the wristshot is good, his one-timer has room for improvement. It seems rushed and it is a hit or miss thing at the moment. He tries to will it in, rather than actually hitting it. I am torn if this is due to his teammates or himself. It is something that needs to be worked on, and with pucks coming faster in Liiga than before it should be interesting to see if Kapanen can work things out.
It might be something that relates to his puck-handling, which will have to be improved for him to get the best out of his offensive skills. He can distribute passes, but mostly the clear and obvious ones; he isn’t creative with the puck. He’ll deliver a pass and then get to the net as fast as possible to pounce on rebounds or use his fine wristshot.
The main thing is his skating, and it is the thing that will have to improve most for Kapanen to go forward. He needs to improve the mechanics and fundamentals before building up muscle in order to make sure he gets the right power out of his legs into the ice. It is clear that the skating is what will make or break Kapanen’s road to the NHL.
Kapanen is a long-term prospect for the Canadiens. He will need at least two years in Liiga before he could have an impact at the AHL level. As with all European prospects, there is no rush to develop him as the Canadiens hold his rights for four years. It may even be best to have all four spent developing in Europe. KalPa has a good development program, but it wouldn’t surprise me if he chooses another club further down the line.
His weaknesses are critical ones, so without addressing he won’t become an NHL player. The other tools are there; his hockey IQ, his work ethic, and of course the nose for the net. If Kapanen could put it all together he could be a top-nine player for Montreal down the line. Liiga is a weaker league than the KHL or SHL, but patience is the key. The shorter travel and lesser amount of games should give Kapanen a fair chance to work on his game and take a step up the rankings next year.