2014 NHL Draft: Kapanen, Nylander form European contingent with NHL bloodlines

By Tony Piscotta

2014 NHL Draft - Kasperi Kapanen - Pittsburgh Penguins

Photo: KalPa Kuopio forward Kasperi Kapanen was chosen 22nd overall at the 2014 NHL Draft by the Pittsburgh Penguins (courtesy of Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

The NHL Draft has always seen its share of players with family ties but the 2014 edition that took place in Philadelphia this weekend could just as easily have been called Father's Day.

In all, 13 players chosen at this year's draft have fathers whose time in the NHL ran the gamut from a cup of coffee to Hall of Fame careers.

Two of those NHL offspring, Pittsburgh Penguins draft pick Kasperi Kapanen and Toronto Maple Leafs' top pick William Nylander, are not only the sons of former NHL players Sami Kapanen and Michael Nylander, but were actually teammates with their fathers in Finland and Sweden respectively this past season.

"I don't think words can really describe what I feel now that I look back at it, it was a big thing for me," said Kasperi Kapanen, who grew up playing hockey in New Jersey while his father was with the Philadelphia Flyers before returning to Finland when Kasperi was 12 years old.

The younger Kapanen made his pro debut with his dad's club, KalPa Kuopio, in the 2012-13 season, playing in 13 regular season games and four playoff contests as a 16-year-old, and played 47 games as a Liiga rookie this past season.

"Playing with your dad, you know you always watched him from the stands and you kind of cheered for him and now you're on the same bench and the same line with him," he said. "It's weird but at the same time, I really enjoyed it. Unfortunately, he's going to retire now but he had a great career and I'm really proud of him."

Like Kapanen, Nylander did not have as big of a season as he would have liked while skating with his dad's team, Rogle BK, in Sweden's Allsvenskan, but finished with a flourish after going to Sodertalje (the club both played for in 2012-13) shortly after Christmas.

"It's hard to say," said the younger Nylander when asked about the slow start. "I came back to the same team where I played the year before (Sodertalje). I think that may have helped me. Maybe the coaches gave me the confidence that I needed to play the way I could."

Nylander was particularly impressive for Sweden's U18 team at the 2014 U18 World Championship, scoring six goals with 10 assists in seven games.

Among the top 2014 selections in North America, Buffalo Sabres top pick Sam Reinhart is the son of former Calgary Flames defenseman Paul Reinhart and the brother of previous draft picks Max (Calgary, 2010) and Griffin (New York Islanders, 2014). Arizona Coyotes first round selection Brendan Perlini, whose father Fred Perlini was in the Toronto organization in the early 1980's and played in eight NHL games with the Leafs, first started playing hockey in Great Britain when his father was playing and later coaching there.

A fifth player, Edmonton Oilers pick Leon Draisaitl is the son of Peter Draisaitl, who played for West Germany and Germany in the Olympics and World Championship and is currently the head coach of HK Hradec Kralove in the Czech Republic.

Asked about all the players and the draft process, Sami Kapanen, who like most of the other fathers was not at the draft when he was selected (by the Hartford Whalers in the fourth round in 1995), was enjoying the event.

"I think it's pretty exciting. I've actually never been at a draft myself so this is the first time through my son's eyes and being in the background and observing how all of this process goes," said Kapanen. "It's been a year of a lot of different kind of events and situations and expectations. I think in the future he can look back and look at this year that it's been a learning process for him handling a lot of different things and the public expectations. It's good for the young hockey players."

With the draft being held in Philadelphia, Kapanen also had an opportunity to catch up with several former teammates and friends. Interestingly, many of their sons are also promising hockey players.

At the Liberty Bell Games' prospects tournament held for players in the Atlantic District a few weeks ago, Sam Timonen (Kimo Timonen's son),  defenseman Kelton Hatcher (Derian Hatcher), and forward Chayse Primeau and his younger brother Cayden Primeau (Keith Primeau) all participated while Carson Briere (Danny Briere) is another promising forward.

"It's fun. If you play with the fathers it's nice to follow up with the boys to see how they're doing," said Sami Kapanen. “There's a lot of players and I think in the upcoming years there will be more and more young players that are the sons of the former NHL players. I think it is creating excitement around the game."

It certainly is creating excitement in Philadelphia this weekend, both for fans, NHL parents, and these NHL draftees who will now take the next step down the path to the NHL that their fathers blazed for them.

Follow Tony Piscotta on Twitter via @HockeyNJ12