Big Georges Laraque forgot to remind Sami Kapanen to smile for this great photo. I guess Kapanen shouldn't be too pleased, as he is about kiss the glass thanks to a man who is twice as big he is.
I always enjoyed Sami Kapanen, the speedy little Finnish waterbug of a hockey player. He was constantly in motion. He didn't just keep his feet moving, he kept them motoring. He was one of the fastest players I've seen, and just a fantastic competitor.
His skating skills were deeper than just speed. He had an excellent acceleration, and he knew how to change gears on a defenseman. He had good agility and balance on his feet, with a low center of gravity that he learned to maximize to make him hard to knock off the puck. He was good at reading the play develop and knew when to dart in and out of traffic.
Kapanen, like most Europeans, had a play maker first mentality, but he was not afraid to use his fine wrist shot, especially off of the rush. He used possibly the shortest stick in the league, which made puckhandling a breeze for him.
He was a tiny guy, but played without fear. He played a spunky game and put himself in harm's way knowing his speed would draw penalties.
He was also very intelligent, playing a sound defensive game. In fact, he was so good defensively that in 2004 playoffs the Flyers would drop Kapanen back on defense for two rounds when injuries surprised them. Kapanen played positionally well, and rushed the puck out of the zone nicely.
The three time Olympian (Finland won bronze in 1994 and 1998) was best known as a member of the Hartford Whalers/Carolina Hurricanes. He was a constant 25 goal, 55 point threat. Had Carolina had a little more depth at the time, I think Kapanen could have upped his totals some.
Kapanen finished his career as a real nice utility player in Philadelphia for 4 seasons. His scoring totals went down, but he was very much appreciated by his coaches and teammates.