The acquisition of Jack Campbell saw Stanley Cup winning enforcer Kyle Clifford jump ship to the Leafs. While his effort and bodyguard presence on the ice has been greatly needed, he’s also inspired more from his teammates.
With a goal and a fight on Thursday night, Kasperi Kapanen has turned into a bit of a bulldozer for this Leafs team. His greatest aspect of play is his insane speed. When he takes off through the neutral zone there aren’t too many defensemen who can catch up to him, showing this in Sunrise this week.
His goal was greatly needed against the Panthers, showing off his sniping ability, albeit on a should-have-been-saved chance. You can’t complain about pucks on net in the NHL and Kapanen has deserved more scoresheet credit in recent weeks.
Finishing the game an assist shy of the Gordie Howe hattrick, Kapanen drew the admiration of his team’s enforcer, Kyle Clifford. Kapanen dropped the gloves on the 20th of February in the 4-0 win over Pittsburgh earning this praise from Clifford:
Kyle Clifford was impressed by Kasperi Kapanen's fight: "Kappy's a fiery guy and he's got a competitive spirit in him. You don't expect him to do that on a nightly basis, but that's what makes good teams great." #Leafs
— Joshua Clipperton (@JClipperton_CP) February 21, 2020
Kapanen is likely known as a skill guy with his speed and shooting ability, but now dropping the gloves twice in a week, on top of scoring in both games he fought in, shows there is an edge and much-needed different dimension to Kapanen’s game.
As a versatile forward who moves up and down the Leafs lineup as needed, Kapanen needs the physical edge to make an impact on the bottom six and needs the finesse and skills to fit in alongside Auston Matthews or John Tavares.
There is some subtext to Clifford’s comments, which he doubled down on after the win over the Panthers. Clifford, 29, has seen what it takes for a team to go deep into the playoffs and succeed. Maybe his comments on Kapanen’s development into a Swiss Army Knife on the ice suggest the Finnish forward has what it takes to make an impact on the Leafs postseason hopes.