The Toronto Maple Leafs have dipped their toes back into the KHL market, signing 23-year old forward Miro Aaltonen to an entry-level contract. A former sixth-round pick of the Anaheim Ducks, he became a free agent when his season ended in Russia. As is usual with the Maple Leafs, no details on the contract have been revealed at this point.
Aaltonen has played professional hockey in his home country of Finland for several years, including lining up with Jesse Puljujarvi and Sebastian Aho for Karpat last season. Though he was much older than that pair, he kept up with them offensively and has broken out even further this year in the KHL. Scoring 19 goals and 44 points in 59 games this season for Chekhov Vityaz, Aaltonen ranked third on the team in scoring and first among 24-or-under players in the entire league.
Blessed with unbelievable skill, Aaltonen has always been undersized and without elite top end speed was thought of as somewhat of a project. Now as he’s started to fill out and increased his skating ability, he may well translate his success to the North American game. His play down-low is excellent for his size, protecting the puck and shaking defenders behind the net. While he may be headed for the AHL to begin his career for the Maple Leafs organization, it’s not out of the question for him to move through the system quickly and make his NHL debut next year.
While success in Finland and Russia does not guarantee success here, the Maple Leafs have found success bringing players over as recently as this season. Nikita Zaitsev, had played in the KHL for years before making it across the pond this season. He’s now playing top-pairing minutes as a rookie for the Maple Leafs, and though there has been bumps in the road has established himself as an NHL force. They’ll try to find the same success with Aaltonen, who will likely join the Marlies for their AHL playoff run this year.