Rookie Tournament Weekend
Live from the Budweiser Gardens
in London Ontario
Rookie Leafs vs Rookie Habs – From The Scrums
On Saturday, I had the privilege of attending the NHL Rookie Tournament in London, Ontario. While there, the opportunity to attend Leafs practice as well as taking part in media scrums before their game against the Montreal Canadiens presented itself.
It was a great experience to watch them take to the ice, witness the drills and get a good analysis on players that didn’t play the night before. Having a chance to interact with the players was also something I will never forget.
One of the notable names to come out for a media scrum was Kasperi Kapanen, the key and essential piece in the Phil Kessel trade that also saw Scott Harrington, Nick Spaling and a few draft picks in return for the talented sniper.
A number of questions were asked by media personnel about his preparations for the upcoming training camp, his game the night before, advice from his father, chemistry with William Nylander and of course the Phil Kessel comparison.
Here is the transcribed interview with a few notes on Kasperi Kapanen:
Is the plan at this stage in your career to stay in North America and move forward from here?
KK: Definitely. I mean whether I play up in the NHL or in the AHL, I’m going to stay here and have a good year over here and just try to have fun.
Between Collingwood and now, what work have you put in to get ready for this pro camp?
KK: “Just a lot of stuff, nothing particular, just trying to be a better player all around and just getting stronger and faster. Obviously, if I play in the NHL it’s 82 games, you got to have good conditioning and I think I’m in good shape right now. I feel good.”
Note: A question was asked in regards to his performance last night. Kapanen said that, “the goals will come. I’m not worried about that. I got to get better in the defensive zone. I let in a couple goals last night, they were kind of my fault. I just got to work on that and be a good player all around.”
This is a great attitude Kapanen is taking towards a defense first mentality. We saw the night before the skills he showcased; great speed, great hands and a great shot. We know he has the ability to become an offensive player. For him to say he needs to be better defensively shows his willingness to do whatever it takes to win. Whether it’s defending a lead or going for a game-tying goal, those are the type players that can be used in any situation. If Kapenen becomes a better player defensively, he can be one of those guys who you can count on in both ends. He even addressed that he had an opportunity to sit down and talk with the coaches about his play.
KK: “We’ve been through it. And I think that’s a good thing that the coaches tell you right away what you did wrong, what you did good. They’re great coaches.”
Paul Hendrick made a comment about the chemistry Kapanen had with William Nylander. Both were exceptional playing together, especially on the power-play. Nylander had two goals, one on the power-play, and Kapanen had two assists, both on the power-play. One was on Nylander’s goal. The other on Dermott’s power-play goal in the third.
KK: “Willie’s a great player. And I think the chemistry is just there. I don’t really know how to explain it. But, it feels good being out there with him and hopefully get to play with him a little more.
While they’re potentially going to be playing for the same team, the two did have animosity in their days playing overseas.
KK: “We played against each other. I don’t think we liked each other too much you know with playing with Finland/Sweden,” he said jokingly, “but right now I think we’re really good buddies.”
What was it like a year ago when you had that good camp, but just a disappointing ending, did it motivate you to keep going with your career?
KK: “Definitely. I mean, I didn’t blame myself. I was 18 trying to make a spot on the Pittsburgh (Penguins) lineup it’s not the easiest thing in the world. Obviously there’s motivation and now camp is starting in a couple days so I’m really excited.”
The fact that you got so close last year, does that make you think that you can do that again this year?
KK: “I’m going to try to. I’m here to have fun and enjoy the moment. If I’m good enough then they’ll keep me. If not, I go down, but it doesn’t mean that if I get sent down that I won’t be playing. I just got to keep myself motivated.”
You say you don’t see your dad as much as a dad, but more as a friend. Is there any particular thing that you’re trying to lean on him on or you ask him about being a professional hockey player?
KK: “I don’t really ask him about those things any more. We’ve been through those over the summer and the past three summers and stuff like that. He’s just asking me how the games go and he might give me a tip or two. He knows that I’m a professional and I know how to play hockey. If there’s something I need help with obviously he’s there to help me out.”
I know you’ve been asked this before but being the key player in the Phil Kessel trade, are you worried about being compared to Phil?
KK: “I don’t know how many times I have to answer this question. I’m me. I’m Kasperi Kapanen. I was in the trade, there were a lot of other people in the trade. I don’t think you need to compare us. If you want to, it’s fine. I’m here to be me and play my style of game. And, like I said, if I’m good enough to stay with the Leafs, then I am.”
What will you take away form your time in Wilkes- Barre as you get ready to play a full year in North America?
KK: “Well obviously the game style is different from back home. I was lucky enough to get in a couple games over there and just get the feel for the North American game. And I think I did really good. I felt really good yesterday (Friday night vs. Ottawa) hopefully the next game will be better.
Note: Going back to the Phil Kessel question. When asked, judging by the tone in his voice, Kapanen seemed a bit annoyed. His response was perfectly executed and unchanged. Same answer he’s been giving since he came to Toronto.
You can never expect someone to replace or be compared to anyone else. They are their own player and they play their own way. Kasperi Kapanen is not Phil Kessel. You can’t expect to have an 18-year- old come in and immediately replace the goals lost from Kessel, a five-time 30-goal scorer. We’ve seen him play one game, tallying two assists. Kessel is a pure sniper. While Kapanen has a great shot, he is an excellent playmaker. Kapanen is on the right path to the NHL and he’s going to be himself. That’s all a player can do, is be themselves.
After the 6-4 loss to the Montreal Canadiens, Director of Player Personnel Mark Hunter took questions from the media. Here is the full interview:
Anybody open your eyes here tonight Mark that might have surprised you in anyway?
MH: “I thought we had good speed as a team. Lots of shots on net. I thought our shooting wasn’t up to snuff tonight and it showed on the scoreboard. We had lots of shots and didn’t get the results that we wanted to.”
Did you like what you see in Freddie Gauthier, being that big body, winning face-offs and being tough in front of the net?
MH: “I thought Freddie had some chances to score, especially in front of the net on the power-play, he could’ve got one. He was good on face-offs, he was a big body in front of the net screening the goalie.”
What do you see is his development this year. What do you want to see out of him?
MH: “We want to see him get in better shape, a little bit quicker of course, continue to winning face-offs and doing all the little things that all the coaches love from him.”
What was it about Nikita Soshnikov that first attracted you guys and went out and signed him a couple months ago?
MH: “He competes real hard. He’s got a good ability to get up and down the ice. And he’s going to push. You can see he’s having fun on the ice, he likes being out there. He looks good so far, but it’s only two games.”
Hunter on Nikolas Brouillard:
MH: “He’s very competitive. He got into a fight tonight and I think he started the fight. He’s held his own and he scored a couple goals tonight. He looked pretty good. He had a good game.”
Nikolas Brouillard was a stand out in last nights game scoring two goals but not afraid to get into a fight despite his size, 5’11, 168 pounds.
“When I’m angry and there’s a guy I just go,” said the Mont-St-Hilaire, Quebec native who is on an amateur tryout. “I think I didn’t do too bad.”
When asked about almost getting a Gordie Howe hat-trick, he recalled a great milestone when played against Rouyn- Noranda when he was 17.
“A Gordie Howe hat trick and a hat-trick in the same game,” he said as the whole scrum burst into laughter. “I scored at 30 seconds at the end. So I made it 4-3 and then at one second. 4-4. I fought in the first period and I had an assist too. It was a great game for me.”
At a camp like this, Brouillard is hoping to turn some heads and possibly earn an NHL contract. Even with his size, he has proved that he’s capable of playing against players bigger than himself. If a contract opprotunity does not present it self, he has said that he will go back to junior.