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Kasperi Kapanen set to take family name to next level

Monday, 09.23.2013 / 10:00 AM / Prospects

By Adam Kimelman - NHL.com Deputy Managing Editor

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Kasperi Kapanen set to take family name to next level
The son and grandson of professional hockey players, Kasperi Kapanen has emerged as a third-generation star in SM-liiga, Finland's top professional league, and is projected as a potential first-round pick in the 2014 NHL Draft.

For Kasperi Kapanen, getting into the family business was a no-brainer.

Kapanen, 17, has emerged as a third-generation star in SM-liiga, Finland's top professional league.

His grandfather, Hannu Kapanen, was a forward for five seasons with Jokerit and HIFK, and also played for Finland at the 1976 Canada Cup and 1976 Olympics.

His father, Sami Kapanen, was drafted by the Hartford Whalers in the fourth round (No. 87) of the 1995 NHL Draft, and had 458 points in 831 games in 12 seasons with the Whalers, Carolina Hurricanes and Philadelphia Flyers. He left the NHL after the 2007-08 season, but has played five of the past six seasons with Kalpa in SM-liiga. Kapanen also is the majority owner of the team.

And for the second straight season, one of Sami's teammates will be his oldest son, Kasperi.

It also likely will be the final season they're together -- Sami turned 40 in June -- so Kasperi said he's going to appreciate it as much as he can.

"He's playing this year and then he's probably retiring," Kasperi told NHL.com. "It's pretty incredible. I can't describe what it feels like to see him every day on the ice and be on the ice with him. But when we're on the ice I see him as a teammate, but when we go home and eat dinner I see him as a father."

After scoring 20 goals five straight seasons early in his career with the Hurricanes, Sami Kapanen reinvented himself as a tenacious checker and penalty killer in his five seasons with the Flyers. Kasperi is trying to combine both those qualities.

"I try to do the stuff he's done and told me," he said. "I try to compete out there and try to get every puck. That's what I try to do. I try to be like him, but just a little bit better."

While the name on the back of his jersey gives him big skates to fill, Kapanen said he wears it as a badge of honor.

"It's a big thing," he said. "It's special. … It's like an honor thing for me. I try to be my best on the ice and show that I'm a Kapanen and be the best one of the three."

He certainly is the one with the best chance to be a first-round NHL draft pick.

"Kasperi Kapanen is one of the top European prospects for the draft in 2014," NHL Director of European Scouting Goran Stubb told NHL.com. "Good skater, excellent, smart moves around the net. Has a very good selection of shots -- a real sniper. He will be regular on Kalpa in the Finnish league this season."

The 5-foot-11, 172-pound right wing made his SM-liiga debut with Kalpa last season, scoring four goals in 13 regular-season games and adding one assist and a plus-1 rating in four playoff games.

Where he really shined, however, was on the international stage. He led the team with three goals and nine points in five games at the World Under-17 Hockey Challenge, and then at the 2013 IIHF World Under-18 Championship in Sochi, Russia, he was second among all players with five goals, including the game-winner in the bronze-medal game against Russia.

"It was a big thing," Kapanen said of the World U-18s. "We had a good run in Sochi and I think we played good and got the bronze medal, so it was a good experience for me for [this] year."

He's already showing how much last season has helped, with a goal in his first three games.

"I know what it takes and what I have to do, and I have to be a really good player on the team this year," he said. "Probably got some high expectations, but I like that, I like the pressure. I just have to try my best."

In addition to a strong season in SM-liiga, he's also hoping to earn a spot on Finland's team for the 2014 IIHF World Junior Championship. He had one goal in five games at an August evaluation camp in Lake Placid, N.Y., and made a positive impression on coach Karri Kivi.

"He's the youngest guy on our team, the only guy born in 1996," Kivi told NHL.com. "I already last year saw him … I like his attitude. He's a talented player, good scorer, but I like his head. He's competitive, he likes to compete. That's what I like. His father still plays and his grandfather played in the top league. It goes in the family."

Kasperi said there never was a doubt he'd follow his grandfather and father into hockey. Born in Finland in the summer following Sami's first NHL season, he began skating at age 4 after the Whalers relocated to North Carolina.

"As soon as I got some skates and a stick and a puck or a ball, I started playing," he said. "My mom's got bruises on her legs from when I played as a little kid. I loved it from the beginning."

He's also grown up around locker rooms and heard all sorts of stories; whether it was from his father's teammates -- he mentioned Mike Richards, Jeff Carter and Kimmo Timonen from Sami's time in Philadelphia as his favorite players -- or his grandfather about his playing days, he's loved all of it.

"It's fun to listen to some of the stories," he said. "They get pretty crazy sometimes. Back in the day it was a little bit different. It's good you got grandpa and dad to tell you stuff about hockey. At times it can get pretty tough and you always want to hear the things they tell you. In the long run, it'll be good for me."

They've also certainly talked about the draft, and a return to Philadelphia, where the 2014 draft will be held. However, Kapanen is doing his best to focus on the season coming up.

"It's a big season for me [but] it's a long way there," he said. "I don't think it's really that smart to think about it right now. There's going to be mock drafts and things like that, but I'm not going to pay attention to that. Just play my game and have a good season and see what happens with the draft."

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Obviously a lot happened in a short period of time. At the end of the day, considering everything I went through, I really felt close to my teammates and I really feel like what we accomplished, I know we didn't win it all. ... I'm really proud of how we got there and what we did once we got there.

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