The Toronto Marlies have signed defenseman Brennan Kapcheck out of the American International College of the NCAA. Kapcheck’s contract is for two years, starting in the 2021-22 season, but he will join the Marlies on a professional tryout for the remainder of this season.
Who is Brennan Kapcheck?
Brennan Kapcheck is what some may describe as a late bloomer. He played his draft year with the Culver Military Academy, a prep school playing within the USHS system.
There actually was a player drafted from that team in 2015… it wasn’t Kapcheck. Instead, the team’s leading scorer, Karch Bachman, went 132nd overall to the Florida Panthers. Bachman is currently playing with Florida’s ECHL affiliate in Greenville under contract to their AHL affiliate in Charlotte.
Kapcheck went on to play in the NAHL, a league that’s generally considered to be a pathway to the NCAA. During his 2nd year there, at 19 years old, he was named the NAHL East’s Defenseman of the Year and was named to the league’s All-Star team.
By itself, those accomplishments aren’t super impressive. After all, he was one of the oldest players in the league by that point.
It was what he did in the NCAA that drew eyes. A lot of them.
During his freshman year at the American International College, he took all expectations and blew them out of the water. The freshman from the NAHL led his team in points… as a defenseman. He finished 15th among all U22 NCAA defensemen in points. He was named his conference’s (AHA) Rookie of the Year and was nominated for the Hobey Baker Award.
The Toronto Maple Leafs invited the 5’9 defenseman to their development camp that year… and the year after that.
While Kapcheck got some more support from his teammates for his last three years in the NCAA, he continued to be the team’s top defenseman. AIC won the AHA’s regular-season championship for the next three years after Kapcheck’s freshman year, winning the overall AHA championship twice.
Brennan Kapcheck leaves the program as the college’s all-time D1 leader in assists, as well as their all-time leader in points for a defenseman. Pretty cool.
One thing I’ll add as a footnote is that the AHA, the conference Kapcheck played in, is notably weak. It’s always important to take that production with a grain of salt, but another promising Leafs prospect, Joseph Duszak, also faced the same criticisms after being signed out of the AHA.
Brennan Kapcheck Scouting Report
Brennan Kapcheck’s coach, Eric Lang, knew that Kapcheck would be a highly-pursued free agent this year. In fact, the team expected Kapcheck to sign an NHL deal.
Maybe that’s high praise, but is there a possibility that it could become warranted?
Offensively, Brennan Kapcheck is good… really good. He’s not super flashy. He won’t always try to dangle his way past defenders as a defenseman. Instead, he’s a brilliant puck-mover. His crisp, accurate passing along with his knack for finding open teammates made him a playmaking threat in the NCAA.
A lot of his assists are secondary assists, but that’s not alarming. He does most of his work from the point, moving around to find teammates that can produce a better chance than he can.
He’s also really good at shooting for a teammate’s chance. Sometimes players get lucky with these things, but Kapcheck does it so often with success that it’s clear that he plans it out well. He’s able to put through a shot from the point that either allows a teammate to deflect it for a high-quality chance, shoot for a rebound off Kapcheck’s shot, or he cleverly bounces it off the boards behind the net so another teammate at the net has a great chance.
I just think that he needs to improve his shot. Like I said before, Kapcheck’s shot allows his teammates to produce chances, but it rarely results in a goal for him. In fact, the man had zero goals in 19 games this season.
At the professional level, Kapcheck will need opponents to respect his shot. Right now, it’s pretty clear that Kapcheck doesn’t shoot to score, It’s something that won’t take long for opponents to figure out. I also think that Kapcheck would benefit from having a better shot overall. He’s so good at finding space for himself that opponents will have a terrible time figuring out what he’d do next. Do you block the shot, or limit the pass?
Kapcheck’s offensive potential makes me think that he could man a power-play unit at the NHL level. Not only that, but I think he could step into the ECHL/AHL and succeed on the power play during his first season.
Defensively… I’m a little worried.
Kapcheck actually had a very large workload defensively with AIC, especially during his senior year, so keep that in mind. However, I find that he sometimes lacks the intensity needed to cover his man and defend high-danger chances. He’s also pushed around a little too easily in the NCAA. At 5’9 and 161 lbs, it’s going to take a lot of adjusting for him to succeed against the bigger competition in the pros.
However, even with his size, he shows tenacity and a willingness to get rough. I think that could help him compete at the professional level.
How many people know more about Brennan Kapcheck’s game than AIC Head Coach Eric Lang, who’s coached Kapcheck throughout his NCAA career?
Lang brings up a very good point about Kapcheck’s defensive smarts, and I’d recommend giving that a read.
The Path and the Fit
Brennan Kapcheck is going to be put in a very tough spot.
I want to compare him and his path to fellow Toronto Maple Leafs Joseph Duszak. Both are small offensive defensemen out of the AHA who will need to work on their defense. The problem is that Duszak signed with the Leafs at 22. Kapcheck is 24 and will turn 25 near the start of next season.
In other words, Kapcheck might have to do what Duszak is doing… but a lot faster.
Kapcheck’s AHL contract will expire once he’s 26, just months away from turning 27. In other words, the Toronto Maple Leafs will want him to be able to compete for an NHL role by the time his deal is up. That is going to be challenging.
I do believe that the start of Brennan Kapcheck’s career will be almost identical to Duszak’s. He will get a few AHL games this year as he gets acquainted with the organization on a PTO. However, the team will opt to send him down to the ECHL with the Newfoundland Growlers next year to start the season. The goal for next season will be for Kapcheck to do well in the ECHL and earn a promotion to the AHL, just as Duszak did.
That’s when crunch time starts for Kapcheck. He will be 25 by then. By that point, he will have just a season and a half to prove that he has done well in the AHL and can compete for an NHL job.
The ideal case for Kapcheck is that he actually plays his way onto an NHL deal during his second season, showing the Leafs that they can already use him as a key depth option.
Realistically, there is a good chance that Kapcheck becomes a very good AHL offensive defenseman, which is actually a good outcome.
However, the Leafs want more from Kapcheck, and I’d bet that he feels the same.
If all goes well, I think that Brennan Kapcheck can be a #5 defenseman at the NHL level. A guy that can provide NHL-calibre offense in sheltered minutes while also being a deadly presence on the second power-play unit.
He can be more than that, he plays like a star, but I just feel as if that’s a more realistic NHL ceiling for him at this point in time.
The Leafs love him, though. They’ve gone out of their way to invite him to their last two prospect camps, and they likely would have invited him in 2020 if they were able to hold a development camp. The organization rarely gives prospects as old as Kapcheck two-year AHL deals. They usually opt for a one-year deal, and then they go from there.
This organization clearly has a lot of faith in this kid.
Like I’ve said before with recent signing Alex Steeves. If he works out, it’s amazing! If not… it’s fine. The Leafs continue to acquire high-potential prospects without giving up any assets and it’s great to see.
Brennan Kapcheck will need to quarantine before appearing with the Marlies. The team already has a really crowded defense, so I’d only expect Kapcheck to appear in a few games this season. I look forward to seeing how he progresses in the organization.
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