Losing Mitch Marner sucks. Yes, Auston Matthews and William Nylander have been awesome in November so far, and yes, the bottom-six is still pulling their weight for the team, but still losing an offensive catalyst blows, regardless of the team’s form.
That being said, there is a golden opportunity right now for a former Tavares line flop to reassert himself as a potential top-6 forward. Yes, Kasperi Kapanen will get a more realistic and fair chance to shine on the 1-A line for the Leafs tonight and can rewrite the ugly start to the season he had on this same unit.
Why was it so bad prior to his re-ascension up the lineup? Because, in the wake of Mike Babcock never going back on his coaching decisions or adapting to any real evidence of him failing, Kapanen was inappropriately deployed as a left-winger to fill in for the injured Zach Hyman.
Firstly, Kapanen is a right-winger and has built his career on speed and shooting. Playing on his off-wing essentially neutered his ability to impact the offense how he naturally does. Secondly, Kapanen, while big and rambunctious at times, is a ‘skill’ player. He likes blazing by defenders and letting a quick wrist shot go to beat the goalie. He isn’t a grinder and again Babcock set him up to play as such, which obviously again limited his effectiveness.
Tavares and Marner still got their points with Kapanen on their line, however, it was largely due to their top power playtime instead of 5 on 5 scoring. When Trevor Moore took over, a versatile winger who can play both sides and grinds in the corners like Hyman, the line picked up their play and things were looking up.
Now, with Marner out, two thirds of that elite line will be back together again. Zach Hyman is back in the lineup on the left side of John Tavares presumably, and Kasperi Kapanen will replace Marner on the right side. It only makes sense, and should actually be effective. Hyman gets in the dirty areas, Tavares sets up the play, Kapanen uses his shooting to finish it.
This set up is much more advantageous to all parties and should help limit the loss of Marner to the best of the team’s ability. If Babcock over thinks this and decides to shuffle his bottom-6 and Tavares then he’s gone off the rails. Put Petan in Kapanen’s spot, insert Hyman and if he needs a minutes break, he can elevate Moore to the second line leftwing. On paper, this looks like an effective team… let’s hope paper translates to ice.