The Toronto Maple Leafs have signed another international free agent, inking Teemu Kivihalme to a one-year entry-level contract. Kivihalme played the last two seasons in Finland after leaving Colorado College in 2017. Kevin McGran of the Toronto Star reports that the deal is worth $800K at the NHL level and does not include any performance bonuses.
Kivihalme, 23, was originally a fifth-round pick by the Nashville Predators in 2013 but never ended up signing with them. The left-handed defenseman was actually born in the United States when his father was playing at the University of Wisconsin-Superior, and played in the Minnesota high school system and USHL before heading to the NCAA. Three years at Colorado College saw Kivihalme record 36 points in 107 games but he left before his senior season. In Finland’s top league playing for a much stronger team than the one he had in Colorado, the young defenseman put it all together and became a legitimate two-way threat.
In his rookie season, Kivihalme recorded 20 points in 44 games and helped Karpat secure a league championship. This season he recorded 30 points in 60 games before adding another nine in 16 playoff contests, but was unable to topple HPK in the finals. Still, there were few defensemen more effective than Kivihalme in the playoffs this season and it is obvious why there was NHL interest.
With another defenseman added to the roster, the Maple Leafs now have several young options to choose from in trying to replace the outgoing Jake Gardiner and Ron Hainsey (provided neither of them re-sign with the team). Kivihalme, Calle Rosen, Rasmus Sandin, Timothy Liljegren and Andreas Borgman will all have a chance to prove themselves in training camp if the team doesn’t add any more veteran options. These young players are going to have to perform for the Maple Leafs if they want to contend for the Stanley Cup, as the top-heavy roster will need contributions from players on entry-level—or close to it—contracts.