With a different NHL team hosting the draft every year, there will always be great hometown stories. Emerson Etem got a huge ovation from the crowd in Los Angeles when the Long Beach product was taken in the first round, then hilariously booed once the crowd realized he was drafted by blood rival Anaheim. The next year in Minnesota, Wayzata’s Tony Cameranesi went jogging since he didn’t know if he would be selected. Then the Toronto Maple Leafs came calling in the fifth round, so he hopped in his car and drove down to the Xcel Center to put the jersey on and meet the press.
This year in Philadelphia, the best hometown kid is Finland’s Kasperi Kapanen and yep, you read that right. Despite his name and the fact he played for KalPa Kuopio in the SM-Liiga this year, Kapanen spent a good chunk of his youth in the Philly area thanks to his dad, former Flyers winger Sami Kapanen.
Kasperi is one of the top Europeans available this year and could very well be a top-10 pick. He grew up around the Flyers from about seven years old until he was 12, when the family moved back to Finland. Kapanen still remembers those days in South Jersey fondly.
“We lived in a quiet neighborhood, I liked it,” he said. “The fans in Philly are amazing, some of the best sports fans in the world, so I liked watching the games over there.”
The fact he’ll be drafted in the city is a great coincidence for the teen, who has proven himself to be mentally strong this season. Playing for what one NHL scout based in Europe called an “historically bad” KalPa team, Kapanen still managed to shine with a pro demeanor and a nose for the net, even if his seven goals and 14 points in 47 games didn’t exactly pop off the stat sheet.
“The season hasn’t been fair to him,” said another NHL Euro scout. “The team hasn’t been good and he doesn’t have a support group.”
Coupled with the fact Kapanen missed the world juniors due to a shoulder injury, then bombed out of the world under-18s when his squad lost 10-0 to Sweden in the quarterfinal, it hasn’t been too sunny for the youngster. But he wasn’t about to let KalPa’s struggles back home define him as a player.
“It was a difficult year for me,” Kapanen said. “We didn’t play that well and it’s a struggle when you’re supposed to be scoring goals, but I’ve grown as a person and a player, so that’s one positive. It builds your character: You can go the wrong way and quit or you can work two times harder and that’s what I tried to do.”
The one cool thing about playing for KalPa is that Kapanen got to line up a few times alongside father Sami, who wound down his pro career with the team (Sami is also an owner alongside Kimmo Timonen). Kasperi admitted that on at least one or two occasions he’d yell out “Dad!” on the ice while looking to be fed a pass, but the positives more than outweighed any potential slips like that.
“He’s my coach, my dad, my trainer and my No. 1 fan at the same time,” Kapanen said. “It’s a big help. He’s been through it all and now he just wants me to become a great player.”
No doubt Sami will be on hand when Kasperi gets up to the podium and though the Flyers probably draft too late to grab Kapanen (they have the 17th selection), the kid that grew up around Philadelphia is happy to get back to the city and all its tastes and aromas.
“Cheesesteaks, hoagies – you miss it,” Kapanen said. “When I come to the States and smell the fresh air, I feel like I’m at home.”