Kupari struggled offensively through the first five games of the 2019 IIHF World Junior Championship registering just a single assist, but broke out with a three-point effort in Finland’s 6-1 win over Switzerland in Friday night’s semi-final.
“That felt good for me. Points were not coming to me before that game,” Kupari said. “I tried to work hard and today I got that prize and I’m happy for whole team and our line and my game today. I think those games when we work hard and do things like we have to do is when all guys play their best and that’s the key for those goals.
“It was a pretty tough start for me, but my game is getting better and better all the time and these last two games have been very good for me and also the whole team.”
Despite the lack of production, Finnish coach Jussi Ahokas wasn’t concerned about Kupari’s game saying his centre’s overall game has come along way.
“I think he played against Canada, really a great game, and he really worked hard,” Ahokas said. “Now, because he did the overall game well, now he got the prize from working well.”
Kupari is back playing in the top Finnish pro league this season with Karpat Oulu and producing well. The 18-year-old had eight goals and 15 assists in 28 games prior to joining his national junior team last month.
The jump back to Karpat, where he also spent 39 games of the 2017-18 season, has seen the Kotka, Finland native take his game to a new level.
“Of course he’s improved and now he’s played in the pro league and he’s taking steps ahead. But young players have to improve and that’s what he’s done,” said Ahokas. “Now he’s played well and also he’s matured more so I think its… he’s taken steps for sure.”
Entering the season, the 185-cm (6-foot-1), 84-kg (185-pound) forward had a goal of improving his play without the puck. Prior to his draft, scouts listed defensive zone awareness as one of his main weaknesses.
“I think I have to improve most when I’m centre man, and have to be good also in our zone, my defensive game, not just going forward,” Kupari said. “Also, I’ve got to get more power and strength in my whole body. I’m better on battles now.”
Seeing the Kings struggle offensively has Kupari believing he can help the NHL club sooner rather than later. Los Angeles ranked last in the league in scoring entering Saturday’s action with just 93 goals scored through 42 games or 2.21 goals for per game.
“My speed is my biggest strength and I have to use that, that’s key for my playing,” Kupari said. “I think that’s the key for me. Maybe I get a chance soon, but let’s see when it happens.”
While he’s playing overseas in Finland, the Kings brass has been in constant communication with the forward they selected 20th overall at the 2018 NHL draft.
“A couple guys came to my games when I played, saw a couple games and I’m texting and calling them a couple times,” explained Kupari. “They’re asking me how things are going there and what I have to improve most and that kind of thing. I’m happy that they’re keep asking me how things are going.”
Kupari got to visit the ‘City of Angels’ as it’s known last summer when he attended his first Kings development camp. Though it was his first four days in the city, Kupari got a taste of what life would be like in Los Angeles.
“It was a nice city and very friendly – the development coaches and manager and all the guys there were very nice,” said Kupari. “Can’t wait to maybe go there some time soon. Let’s see when is that time. I’m very happy for that. I knew that’s a very big city and Hollywood and those kinds of things are there. Also things have been pretty good there in the past 10 years – couple Cups. Maybe this season isn’t that good, but it’s a very good organization and very nice city.
“We went once to Manhattan Beach. We were there and that was nice.”
As he looks to take the next step in his career and become a threat with the Kings, Kupari will need to continue to improve on the little details in his game.
“I think still he has his starts and stops, acceleration,” said Ahokas. “Speed of course is good, but start and stop game. A little bit more that he has to be able to move the puck, but I think he has a good chance to make it to the NHL.
“(His defensive game is) getting better, it’s gotten a lot better during the year and I think when he just keeps working on it, eventually it will become a lot better.”