Finding Some Finnish For The Blueline
In the entire history of the franchise, the Detroit Red Wings have employed three Finns. One of them, center Valtteri Filppula, returned to the team this summer, signing as an unrestricted free agent.
The others were also forwards - Teemu Pulkkinen and Ville Leino.
Lately, the Wings have invested heavily in Finnish futures. They drafted Assat Pori defenseman Antti Tuomisto with the 35th pick of the 2019 NHL entry draft. Undersized center Otto Kivenmaki, also from Assat Pori, was selected 191st overall in 2018. Defenseman Kasper Kotkansalo, chosen 71st overall in 2017, will enter his junior year of NCAA hockey with the Boston Terriers this fall.
As well, defenseman Oliwer Kaski, who led all SM-liiga rearguards with 19 goals and 51 points for Pelicans Lahti last season, signed with Detroit in the summer as a free agent.
“I knew he had an unbelievable season,” Kotkansalo said of Kaski. “All I’ve heard, only good things, even comparisons to (Erik) Karlsson (of the San Jose Sharks).
“I guess the Wings got a pretty good defenseman there.”
While Kaski is known for his offense, Kotkansalo is more of a stay-at-home type of defender. Tuomisto’s strength is gaining control of the puck in his own zone and making outlet passes to the forwards.
“Maybe an offensive guy, offensive defenseman and great playing with puck and passing the puck up to the forwards,” was how Tuomisto described his game, comparing himself to Esa Lindell of the Dallas Stars.
Watching large, mobile defensemen excel for the Stanley Cup champion St. Louis Blues encouraged both of the big Finnish blueliners that there’s a place for them in the NHL.
“Being another stay-at-home defenseman, we were talking about it actually,” Kotkansalo said. “Hopefully there’s going to be a spot like that open on the Red Wings in the near future, too.”
Of the trio of defensemen, it’s clear that Kaski is the closest to making the jump into the Wings lineup.
“He’s definitely in the mix,” Detroit GM Steve Yzerman said. “He’s got a good shot. I watched him play at the Worlds. Based on what we’ve seen at the Worlds, and (development coach) Jiri (Fischer) has watched him for two years, he is a candidate to play on our team. He’s a very good power-play guy, has an excellent shot, real good hockey sense.
“Can he adjust to playing on a smaller ice surface? He did that in college (at Western Michigan). We’re optimistic that he’s going to get a good opportunity. We’re optimistic he can play in the NHL this year.
“We’re going to give him a good opportunity to be amongst our six D on opening night.”
The Wings announced Friday that center Domin Turgeon had agreed to terms on a one-year contract.
Selected 63rd overall by the Wings in the 2014 NHL entry draft, Turgeon, 23, has appeared in nine games with Detroit over the past two seasons. He’s still looking for his first NHL point.
“He’s done a good job the games he’s been up here, whether it’s exhibition or last season,” Wings coach Jeff Blashill said of Turgeon, who works as a checking center and a penalty killer.
Follow me on Twitter @asktheduffer