Marco Kasper has become, of all things, a juggler. And he is getting adept at it.
“Pretty decent,” he said with a modest tone. “Getting better, I would say.”
How good is he? Three balls at one time? Four? Five?
“Four is too hard,” Kasper said. “I’ve tried it. But three I can do for quite a bit of time. If I focus on it, I can do it for a minute or so.”
Fear not, the 18-year-old hockey player is not making a sudden detour toward a skill more fit for a kid’s birthday party or a circus act. But the learned skill does play into the sport he’s working toward mastering. Kasper took up juggling to improve his hand-eye coordination. And as he has continued to develop, starting in his native Austria and now in Sweden, as the heady forward uses that know-how to tip pucks in front of the net. It’s an area where he loves to play.
That’s only part of Kasper’s repertoire, which will make him a sure-fire selection in the first round of next week’s NHL Draft at Montreal’s Bell Centre. Hanging around the net to tip point shots or put in loose pucks before the opposing goalie and defenders can find them is all part of his determination to disrupt, to do damage. He has the attributes that a team would want in an offensive forward: strong skating, a sturdy 6-foot-2 big-league frame, an underrated hard shot and a willingness to play in the tough areas. He knows how to finish from in close.
Perhaps above all, Kasper possesses what Rögle BK Ängelholm coach Cam Abbott calls “a great engine,” which made him a valued member of their top Swedish Hockey League pro club and, potentially, of an NHL team. Add in adaptability to what Abbott needs out of Kasper in a system that stresses 200-foot play, and you have a player who coaches can readily trust.
“He’s a smart player,” said Abbott, who first met Kasper at the end of 2019. “Very smart. He competes really hard. … He’s not one to force his skill set on the team. He has a very selfless way of playing. When that is the case for whatever team he’s playing for – and he transported the puck more even for us this season – with his feet moving, his skill level is going to show even greater than I think it did this year. But that wasn’t what was going to get him in those positions and the ice time he was looking for in the way that we needed to win.
“I think the skill level is 100 percent there. In my opinion, the finish rate — and when he gets in those situations more, it’s going to show well.”
Abbott touches on the things that could make Kasper a fan favorite for the team that drafts him – and what could mark his ceiling in that team’s lineup.
It doesn’t take long to see that Kasper is a worker when he gets on the ice, a player who is in engage mode and in full pursuit when the goal is to get the puck. The tenacity also extends to when he isn’t taking full strides across the ice, such as in front of the net, where he loves to hover and absorb pressure from the opposition to make it tougher for netminders to do their job.