Penguins A to Z: Can Kasperi Kapanen be fixed?

With the Penguins’ 2021-22 season coming to a quick ending in the first round of the playoffs, the Tribune-Review will offer Penguins A to Z, a player-by-player look at all 54 individuals signed to an NHL contract — including those whose deals do not begin until the 2022-23 season — with the organization, from mid-level prospect Niclas Almari to top-six winger Jason Zucker.

Kasperi Kapanen

Position: Right winger

Shoot: Right

Age: 25

Height: 6-foot-1

Weight: 194 pounds

2021-22 NHL statistics: 79 games, 32 points (11 goals, 21 assists)

Contract: In the final year of a three-year contract with a salary cap hit of $3.2 million. Pending restricted free agent this upcoming offseason.

(Note: According to Cap FriendlyKapanen is eligible for salary arbitration this August.)

Acquired: Trade, Aug. 25, 2020

Last season: If nothing else, Kasperi Kapanen is honest.

He had a lousy season in 2021-22 and didn’t hide from that.

In early December, he was asked to assess his season and answered curtly.

Terrible. Thanks.”

There wasn’t much to be thankful for in regards to Kapanen’s second season with the Penguins. After showing plenty of promise during the 2020-21 when he logged 30 points (11 goals, 19 assists) in 40 games, Kapanen’s production regressed significantly in the 2021-22 season campaign.

And it wasn’t for lack of opportunity. With top centers Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin sidelined during the early stages of the season, Kapanen saw a fair amount of time on the power play.

Before missing his first game of the season Jan. 2 due to covid-19 protocols, Kapanen appeared in 30 contests and produced a mere 16 points (seven goals, nine assists) while averaging a solid 16:54 of ice time per game.

Things appeared to be on the upswing for Kapanen when he was reunited with Malkin who returned to the lineup after recovering from offseason surgery to his right knee. In a 4-1 road win against the Anaheim Ducks on Jan. 11, Kapanen recorded two assists, each on goals by Malkin. But like most of the scant success Kapanen saw during 2021-22, he could not sustain any momentum with Malkin.

After getting a goal in a 3-2 home shootout win against the Winnipeg Jets on Jan. 23, Kapanen went through a hideous streak of 20 consecutive games with no goals. That figure might have been 21 games but Kapanen was a healthy scratch for a 5-2 home win against the Vegas Golden Knights on March 11.

Kapanen appeared to generate some chemistry on the third line when he was teamed with veteran center Jeff Carter, and they hooked up on Kapanen’s 10th goal of the season during a 4-1 road win against the Arizona Coyotes on March 19.

But once again, Kapanen could not generate momentum off that moment and had as many goals (one) as healthy scratches over the team’s final 19 games of the regular season.

Once the playoffs began, Kapanen received an almost immediate promotion to the second line after Rickard Rakell suffered a head injury in Game 1 of a first-round series with the New York Rangers.

Primarily skating with Malkin over the course of the series, Kapanen recorded three assists in seven games.

The future: As a restricted free agent, Kapanen will likely receive a qualifying offer to simply retain his signing rights.

Now, if he deserves anything beyond a one-year contract offer from the Penguins, that’s up for debate.

Given his inconsistency, it’s hard to justify anything beyond a “prove-it” deal for Kapanen who turns 26 in July.

There’s clearly talent in Kapanen, a first-round pick (No. 22 overall) in 2014. In fact, he might be one of the team’s five-most talented players. Additionally, he is one of the team’s top skaters.

And he cares, mostly. There are times when he can be raw and emotional when discussing his malfunctions. And there are other occasions where his body language on the ice would suggest he’d rather be anywhere on earth other than the ice.

It might be hyperbolic to suggest Kasperi Kapanen is broken. But it’s fair to wonder if he can be fixed.

Follow the Penguins all season long.

Seth Rorabaugh is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Seth by email at srorabaugh@triblive.com or via Twitter .