Nothing has gone based on script for Sami Niku this season.
The Finnish-born defenceman figured he’d crack the Winnipeg roster out of coaching camp and be a key component because the Jets blue line underwent an excessive makeover.
And after suiting up for 30 NHL video games a 12 months in the past and a bunch extra watching from the press field, his expectation wasn’t pie-in-the-sky pondering.
Certainly, there have been holes to fill on the again finish within the fall, but Niku’s identify has solely been above a Jets locker-room stall as soon as throughout the first half of the 2019-20 marketing campaign. The remainder of the time he both served the Manitoba Moose or was recovering from accidents — till now.
With an harm to Nathan Beaulieu, the Jets recalled the smooth-skating Finn on Thursday and he took the warm-up skate at Bell MTS Place previous to his membership’s battle with the Toronto Maple Leafs. He is destined to play on the crew’s four-game street journey, maybe as early as Saturday in Minnesota towards the Central Division-rival Wild.
“It feels actually good and I used to be excited. I heard that Beau was harm, so I used to be slightly bit anticipating they could name me up, nevertheless it’s a great feeling and good to be again,” mentioned Niku following observe Thursday. “It hasn’t been the 12 months I wished it to be, nevertheless it’s simply dangerous luck and now I am good to go once more. I’ve to remain wholesome and simply play my very own recreation.
“My objective was to play the entire 12 months within the NHL and it did not occur. However now I am right here and I simply need to keep right here and play nearly as good as doable.”
Issues went south fairly rapidly for Niku when he and ahead Kristian Vesalainen bought right into a automobile crash the primary day of coaching camp and suffered some bumps and bruises. Later in camp, Niku missed time with an harm, by no means actually bought again on monitor and started the 12 months with the Manitoba Moose, the Jets’ American Hockey League affiliate.
He had a one-game promotion for a recreation in Pittsburgh however was despatched again to the Moose after that. After which the accidents began to pile up and he missed two lengthy stretches earlier than lastly being obtainable to Manitoba head coach Pascal Vincent on Dec. 29. He performed a pair of video games for the Moose earlier than getting being recalled this week.
In 18 video games with the Moose, the 2017-18 AHL defenceman of the 12 months had three objectives and 11 helpers.
Niku has loads of the instruments required to be an NHL common, together with slick foot work, fast puck motion and pure offensive instincts, however his dimension and energy, defensive work and hole management clearly posed some issues final season.
The 23-year-old mentioned he believes he is taken main steps to deal with these factors of concern.
“I used to be working actually onerous for a month once I did not play. I labored out day by day and bought stronger, too. I am in higher form earlier than the harm, most likely. I added like 5 kilos,” mentioned Niku, who’s listed at six toes and 194 kilos. “(Defence) is getting higher and higher. I do not fear about that. I do know I can defend, too. The offence will likely be there, however in fact I may be tougher and tougher within the D zone. Nevertheless it’s getting higher yearly.”
It now comes all the way down to a call between Niku and Carl Dahlstrom by Jets head coach Paul Maurice.
“We will see him sooner fairly than later, except we get on some type of a run. We nonetheless have not made our lineup, based mostly on different points we’re coping with on our again finish, for (Saturday). However we’ll need to get him in control and get him in fairly fast,” mentioned Maurice.
On social media, some Jets followers have been clamouring for his addition to the roster since opening evening, and the #FreeNiku message has made its manner round Manitoba and to Finland and again.
Niku noticed an indication within the crowd Thursday with that hashtag that made him chuckle.
“It means rather a lot that the followers like me,” Niku mentioned. “I’ve executed one thing proper. I am comfortable.”
Jason BellAssistant sports activities editor
Jason Bell wished to be a lawyer when he was a child. The film The Paper Chase bought him hooked on the concept of legislation college and, probably, falling in love with somebody precisely like Lindsay Wagner (earlier than she went all bionic).
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