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Kapanen wows Penguins brass at development camp

by Wes Crosby

PITTSBURGH -- Kasperi Kapanen understands any expectations of making the Pittsburgh Penguins opening-night roster could be unrealistic, but the forward is prepared to defy the odds.

Kapanen, Pittsburgh's first-round pick (No. 22) in the 2014 NHL Draft, skated at Consol Energy Center for the first time this week during Penguins development camp. The 17-year-old began the week frustrated by his lack of game-ready legs.

By the time camp ended, Kapanen said he felt there was room for significant improvement, but he is ready to compete when Pittsburgh opens training camp in September.

"I'm still not at the top of my game. I haven't been on the ice this summer at all before this," Kapanen said. "So it's been hard for me. But this week, it's been fun to be on the ice and being on the ice with these guys. It felt good, I felt good with the puck. I think I made some good plays.

"[Being prepared for training camp] is going to be tough. It's going to be tough, but I'm ready. I think I'm up for the challenge. I know some people might doubt me, but I'm just going to bring everything to the table and hopefully make the team."

Penguins assistant general manager Bill Guerin said Kapanen has a legitimate chance to make Pittsburgh's roster.

"He's even better than I thought he would be," Guerin said. "So I was very happy with him. He's just high-end talent, high-end speed. He's a very, very mature kid for his age. Obviously, having his father [Sami Kapanen] playing so many years in the NHL and playing with him and brining him up that way, he's already a pro.

"So he’s ahead of the game in that department, but you just got a little screenshot of what's to come and he's not even 18 yet."

Kapanen (6 feet, 181 pounds) showed his knack for driving to the front of the net throughout the week. That asset could be valuable to Pittsburgh, which lost forwards James Neal and Jussi Jokinen during the early stages of the offseason.

"I think that has to be the way you play in this League, go to the net," Kapanen said. "That's where you score goals, so that's just the type of mindset I try to give to myself, and go to the net and eventually you'll score."

With a retooled lineup that seems to have become more balanced, the possibility for Kapanen to claim a bottom-six role three months after being drafted is slim. Kapanen expects to compete for a spot on the NHL roster but recognizes that could be out of reach at this early stage of his career.

If he is unable to claim a spot, Kapanen said he will use it as motivation to push harder for a chance later in the season or next fall.

The Penguins finished the development camp with a scrimmage open to the public Saturday at Consol Energy Center. About 6,500 fans watched the action from the lower bowl.

Kapanen expressed his surprise when told the number of fans in attendance and remarked that it is was more than he is accustomed to playing in front of in his native Finland.

"It's a little different," he said. "It was really fun just to have the fans in the game and into it. Of course, it makes the game a lot more fun."

Following practice Tuesday, Kapanen said he was impressed with his first time in Pittsburgh. After the scrimmage Saturday, he shared similar sentiments about the Penguins organization.

"I think I've bonded with everybody," he said. "Everybody here is so polite and so open-minded and it's easy to talk with them, and especially the guys here, they've kind of took me in. It's been a fun week."

Kapanen didn't earn a point during the scrimmage in his team's 6-4 loss. But he said he was pleased with how he performed.

"I thought my legs were pretty good today," Kapanen said. "I don't think they're 100 percent yet, and I think that's a good thing for me because I know that I can be better. So, it was good that I got my legs going a little bit today and got my hands and just my game, I thought it was pretty good today."

During a preplanned shootout, Kapanen was selected to shoot first for Team Black. He deked to the right before dragging the puck back to his left and roofing a backhand shot. The shootout goal showcased his impressive set of hands.

"It's a move that I don't do often. I don't go to the backhand, I'm not too sure about that," Kapanen said. "But the goalie gave that to me that time and I tried it out and it worked out. So, I think I'm going to try that a little bit more, and of course, I think I'm good at shootouts. I like being under pressure."

After four days on the Consol Energy Center ice, Kapanen said he gained an understanding of the effort expected in the NHL.

"Here, it's always a tough day. It's never easy," Kapanen said. "So when we're on the ice, we're always going 100 percent. So that's something I've learned. In Europe, some days, we might not go as hard, but here, we go 100 percent every day.

"But that's the way I like it. That's how you become better."

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