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Canadiens Prospect Report: Kapanen Surge, Engstrom’s Run

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Montreal Canadiens Oliver Kapanen

Even though most players in the Montreal Canadiens organization are now free to enjoy a few weeks of rest and relaxation, there are still key prospects involved in playoff hockey in their various junior leagues, not to mention players who recently put an end to their playoff runs.

Oliver Kapanen

Ever since the Habs selected Oliver Kapanen in the second of the 2021 NHL Entry Draft there has been concern about his lack of growth from an offensive standpoint.

Kapanen’s defensive game is quite good, but when it comes to the prospects in the organization there’s really no need for any more defensive specialists. To put it simply, the Montreal Canadiens need players who can score goals, or at the very least contribute when it comes to driving the play up the ice.

Last season saw Kapanen’s production rise to the tune of 12 goals and 15 assists in 55 games with Kalpa in the SM-liiga (Finland). It was an encouraging sign given that he’s playing in a professional hockey league against much older players who have a lot more experience, but even if we stay mindful of the context, scoring at slightly less than half a point per game is far from an exciting level of production.

When we consider his NHLe (NHL Equivalence) of just 18 points in 82 games, it was clear that Kapanen had to find a new gear if he was to make his mark for the Habs.

This season he managed to improve his production thanks to an increase in ice time and responsibilities, which led to several games in which he played over 20 minutes. His average ice time rose to 18:30 per game, which, in turn, led to a slightly higher scoring pace, with 14 goals and 20 assists in 51 games, giving him an NHLe of 25 points in 82 pro-rated games. It was better, but still far from ideal seeing as he’s a 20-year-old prospect who should be improving every season.

That’s when Kapanen decided to flip the script. He scored seven goals and seven assists in just 13 playoff games, leading to an NHLe of 40 points, well within the realm of reasonable.

In fact, it pushed him from well down the depth list in the Canadiens prospect pool to the upper tier of potential impact players.

The question now becomes when Kapanen may sign his entry-level contract and join either the Laval Rocket or the Montreal Canadiens in the NHL.

As per usual, we turn to European prospect expert Patrik Bexell for clarification as to the procedure.

He suggests the Habs will sign Oliver Kapanen, however, Timra, an SHL club, will offer him a contract beforehand. This means if Kapanen fails to earn a roster spot in the NHL next season, Timra will push to have him returned to Europe rather than playing in the AHL. It should also be noted that Kimmo Kapanen, Oliver’s father, is the general manager running the show for Timra.

Generally speaking, fans tend to raise an eyebrow whenever prospect development takes place on a team in which the Canadiens have no input. There’s even less trust in place after David Reinbacher’s disastrous season with Kloten in the NL (Switzerland).

But in this particular case, I’d suggest that giving Kapanen a chance to flourish in the SHL is the perfect next step for a player who needs to refine his game a little more before heading to Canada.

Besides, Kloten was the exception rather than the rule.

Teams in Sweden, Finland (and even Switzerland) usually do a very good job when it comes to prospect development, even if they’re aware their hard work will essentially all be for naught once the player makes the jump to North American professional hockey.

Adam Engstrom

Rogle was not expected to make much noise in the SHL playoffs.

They finished in ninth place during the regular season, which meant they had to face Timra in an eighth-final series before they could even take part in a proper playoff series.

Rogle quickly dispatched Timra, then went on to sweep Farjestad, the best team in the league. They would go on to sweep the second-best team in the league, Vaxjo, and now find themselves battling for the SHL title in a series versus Skelleftea, the third-best team in the league.

Simply put, it’s been a miraculous run that is almost unheard of in professional sports, with Montreal Canadiens prospect Adam Engstrom playing a part, including the third game of the series against Vaxjo that featured over 30 minutes of ice time for the mobile defenceman.

As for his production, he has earned four assists in 11 playoff games, but you’d be hard-pressed to argue he should be doing more given his improvement in the defensive zone.

Engstrom is expected to sign his entry-level contract once Rogle’s run comes to an end, which once again points to the team’s overabundance of defensive prospects. He also shoots left, making his long-term role with the Habs a little harder to project.

With players like Lane Hutson, Jordan Harris, Arber Xhekaj, Kaiden Guhle, and Jayden Struble, not to mention Mike Matheson already providing some of the richest depth at that position in the NHL, Engstrom’s value to the Canadiens is mitigated slightly, but we also have to remember that other than Hutson, none of the aforementioned players possess the type of skillset we’ve seen from the Swedish defenceman.

He’s one of the smoothest skaters you’ll ever see, an asset that he combines with impressive creativity in the offensive zone. Like all defencemen his age, he needs to improve on his positioning and gap control, but given how well he’s playing against elite teams in Europe, I’d suggest the necessary defensive improvements aren’t enough to keep him out of the mix.