This is the last in a series of profiles leading up to the NHL Draft on Friday and Saturday.
There are definitely advantages and drawbacks to being the son of an NHL player. On the plus side, you grow up around the rink and get a behind-the-scenes look at the best athletes in the world. Unfortunately, your dad will create one awfully big shadow.
Kasperi Kapanen knows that all too well.
“That’s my middle name nowadays, ‘Sami’s Son,’ so you get used to it,” Kapanen said with a grin. “Now that it’s my draft year and hopefully I’ll get picked, I’m going to start making a name for myself. Of course, they won’t forget Sami, but it’s my turn now.”
Kapanen seems destined to eventually break out of the shadow of his father, who played 831 games with Hartford, Carolina and Philadelphia. The younger Kapanen is the No. 1-ranked European skater in the NHL Entry Draft, according to Central Scouting, and he won’t wait long to hear his name when the selection process begins Friday.
“Some of my friends come up me and go, ‘Oh, you’re first in Europe’ and stuff like that, but I try not to listen to that,” the 17-year-old said. “It’s just a mock draft, and I’m really looking forward to the real one.”
While the start of his NHL dream excites him, the Finnish-born forward also is eagerly anticipating his return to Philadelphia. He lived in the home of the draft from 2002 to 2008 when his father played wing for the Flyers.
“When I come to the States I just smell the fresh air and I feel like I’m at home,” Kapanen said. “I lived here for 12 years, so that’s where I picked up my English. When I was 12, we moved back. I like it more in the States than I do in Finland.”
Kapanen has played in Finland’s top professional league for the last two seasons, and he’s shared the KalPa dressing room with his still-playing dad. Kasperi Kapanen finished seventh on the team in scoring, while Sami Kapanen was ninth.
“It’s kind of weird if he has the puck on the ice and you’re playing with him,” Kapanen said. “You yell out, ‘Dad,’ and you think about it for a second, what’s going on?”
While it can be weird, the son has relished the experience.
“He’s my coach, my dad, my trainer and my No. 1 fan at the same time,” Kapanen said. “It’s a big help. He’s gone through it all, and now he just wants me to become a great player.”
The scouts like what they have seen from the 5-foot-11, 180-pounder.
“He’s a good-skating wing and can also play center,” said Goran Stubb, the European director of NHL Central Scouting. “He has a smooth and surprisingly fast style that has surprised many unsuspecting defensemen. His tricky puck skills and quick release have paid off in many games, and he has good hand-eye coordination. He’s not overly physical but does not shy away from rough situations.”
Kapanen says he learned a lot about being a pro during a tough season for KalPa. The team finished last, and he had just seven goals and 14 points in 47 games. He had four goals in 13 games during his rookie year.
“It’s a struggle when you’re supposed to be scoring goals in your draft year and you’re supposed to be good,” he said. “It kind of builds your character a little bit. You can go the wrong way and just kind of quit, or you can you work two times hard. That’s what I tried to do.”
When the puck wasn’t going in for Kapanen, he tried to focus on his forechecking, physicality and defensive game. “I’ve got to be better at that if I want to make the NHL someday,” he said.
If he makes it, he’ll have the opportunity to create his own stories. For now, he’ll relay the ones that came from being Sami’s son.
“I remember a story when I was on the ice around 3, 4 years old with my dad after practice,” Kapanen said. “I think it was Bates Battaglia. He was taking slap shots on the boards and he wasn’t looking up at all. I was skating right in the way. I didn’t have a helmet on, but even if I did it still wouldn’t have helped that much. He shot it 3, 4 inches above my head, so my dad kind of got mad at him.
“There’s a lot of stories.”