About halfway through the past hockey season, the Detroit Red Wings began zeroing in on Finnish defenseman Oliwer Kaski. The Wings completed what had been a very poorly-kept secret earlier this week when they officially announced that Kaski, 23, had been signed to a one-year entry-level contract.
“This past season, from the beginning of the year he started putting up points, which escalated into borderline dominating the game at the Finnish Elite League,” Wings director of player evaluation Jiri Fischer told Mlive.com.
Kaski scored 19 goals and 32 assists over 59 games this season with the Lahti Pelicans. He was sixth in league scoring and won the Lasse Oksanen Award as the league's best player.
“I would say the level is a little bit below the American League, but there are some very good players that either played in the NHL or will play in the NHL,” Fischer said. “By the end of the season, Oliwer was the leading scorer of the team. He was the only defenseman in last decade to win regular season MVP. He played both sides of the puck.”
At the world championship as Finland won the gold medal without a single NHL player, Kaski worked the point on his country’s No. 1 power-play unit, running it from the top or stationed in the shooter’s position on his off-hand for the one-timer.
“For any defenseman who wants to play at a high level, being hockey smart is the most important thing,” Fischer said. “He’s showed that all the way throughout his career. Also one of his strong suits that really made him stand out this year is figuring out what his strengths and limitations are.
“People who haven’t seen him play for a couple of years had him penciled in as someone who needed to work on his skating. He certainly has. The last couple of summers, he really committed to working on his skating strides and the strength and agility and I would say now that he’s an above-average skater.”
Garpenlov Sets Sail
There’s always been a strong connection between Sweden and the Red Wings, so perhaps it’s only natural that a former Red Wings forward is the new coach of the Swedish national team.
Johan Garpenlov has officially taken over the Swedish program, which came home without a medal from the recent world championship. He replaces Markus Gronberg, who stepped down following the world tourney.
That move had been in the cards since last summer, when it was announced that Gronberg would coach the team for one more season and then step aside in favor of his assistant Garpenlov. Sweden won two world tourney gold medals under Gronberg’s leadership.
Garpenlov, 50, played 609 NHL games over 10 seasons. The first 87 were played were spent with the Wings, where among Garpenlov’s key accomplishments was helping rookie defenseman Nicklas Lidstrom settle into the North American lifestyle during the 1991-92 season.
Garpenlov posted 18-22-40 totals with the Wings as a rookie in 1990-91.
Follow me on Twitter @asktheduffer