The Penguins annual development camp kicked off Tuesday at CONSOL Energy Center with medical and fitness testing in the morning, followed by on-ice practice sessions in the afternoon. This year’s camp includes a mix of returning players and freshly picked prospects.
Among the new faces is a name you will get to know very well throughout the week, and possibly throughout the upcoming season. Kasperi Kapanen, a first-round draft pick, the 22nd pick overall in June, hopes to permanently call Pittsburgh his home one day.
“I put that Pittsburgh jersey on today on the ice and it really starting hitting me,” Kapanen said. “‘Wow, I’m here. I made it.’ I mean I made it to this development camp. I haven’t made anything yet, but I’m just really grateful that I’m here. Walking out there and seeing the big arena and all that, it’s really cool.”
Kapanen knows this week is a great opportunity to showcase his skating and puck handling skills to the coaching staff, and is eager to learn as much as he can.
“We have a great coaching staff,” said Kapanen. “I’m just really excited that they’re giving me tips. I’m kind of just being a sponge right now and taking everything in.”
General manager Jim Rutherford has mentioned that Kapanen could be ready for NHL playing time as early as this season. He’ll be a candidate for the Penguins’ opening spot on the top-6. But, for now, the 17-year-old forward is excited to call CONSOL home for the next week.
“You know, you wanna make the team,” said Kapanen. “I wanna make the team, of course. But, right now, like I said, I’m just trying to have fun and just be the best I can.”
And Kapanen’s best is pretty darn good. The talented skater played in 47 games for KalPa Kuopio in Finland’s top professional league, where he skated alongside his father, former NHL player Sami. Sami was selected in the 1995 NHL draft by Rutherford when he was the GM of the Hartford Whalers.
“At the time, I didn’t know that,” Kapanen said. “But Jim told me himself, that he drafted my father and now I’m drafting you, so it’s a pretty cool thing and I’m just really happy that they were interested in me and picked me.”
Kapanen is looking forward to every aspect of camp, including training, spending time with the other guys and learning more about the city. He said he has been running a lot this summer and is confident that the level of his conditioning is right where it needs to be.
“There’s not that much left,” said Kapanen. “I’ve had a good summer and I feel happy the way I feel. I feel strong and I feel better than last year and before I started training. I gotta say that I’m at a good point right now.”
One thing that the Finnish forward will need to adjust to is the North American style of play and the smaller rink size.
“I’m just trying to play my type of game,” he said. “I think that’s a good type of game. I just have to put it in a smaller rink this time, but I think that’s gonna be really good for me.”
In addition to adjusting to the rink size, Kapanen also mentioned he is adjusting to the culture as well as constantly speaking English. But, despite the changes, he’s thrilled to be here.
“I love it. I love the city,” Kapanen said. “So far what I’ve seen it’s a great city. I’m really excited. Just being around these guys, I didn’t know anybody and now it seems like I know everybody so it’s much more comfortable for me now.”