Here’s every NHL team’s player to watch break out this year

PHILADELPHIA, PA - MARCH 10: Nolan Patrick
PHILADELPHIA, PA - MARCH 10: Nolan Patrick /
27 of 31

Toronto Maple Leafs: Kasperi Kapanen

John Tavares changes everything for this team, right? Suddenly, with a one-two punch down the middle in Auston Matthews and Tavares, the Leafs have the mojo to take on the biggest and best in the Eastern Conference. And that pushes the underrated Nazem Kadri (32 goals last season) to the No. 3 slot, which will in turn make those third-liners better.

One of those third-liners this season could very well be Kasperi Kapanen, he of the lottsa potential but little realization so far in his young career. He’s 22, which in forward years is entering his prime, so this is the season he’s due to kick it down.

Support for this projection: He’s got the pedigree (his dad is Sami, his uncle is Kimmo); he’s got the scoring touch (7 goals in 38 games with the Leafs last season, a total of 30 in 71 games with the Marlies over the last two seasons); and he’s got the motivation (he’s poised to emerge from the shackles of his entry-level contract).

If he listens to and earns the respect of coach Mike Babcock, there’s no reason Kapanen won’t get a chance to show what he’s got. He was buried on the fourth line in what little ice time (11:20) he did receive last season, playing alongside Matt Martin and Dominic Moore, not exactly players who are going to finish what you started. This season will be different.