The Ottawa Senators have inked another one of their impressive 2020 draft class, signing Leevi Merilainen to a three-year entry-level contract. Merilainen is coming off another season at the junior level in Finland and will likely spend 2021-22 in Europe again. Senators GM Pierre Dorion released a short statement on his newest prospect:
Leevi made significant strides in his development while playing with a strong program at Karpat last season. He plays big in the net, maintains a controlled style and is on the right path to continuously improve as he builds additional strength and gains more experience. It’s our hope to see him play for Finland at the next world junior championship.
Merilainen, 18, was the 71st overall pick in 2020 and one of the youngest players available in the draft class. Amazingly, despite going in the third round, he was the Senators seventh selection. Should he spend next season in Finland as expected, his entry-level deal will not burn the first year and instead slide forward.
Already 6’2″, Merilainen still hasn’t really matured physically and will likely put on even more size to his thin frame in the coming years. That hasn’t held him back at all so far though, as the young netminder posted a .934 save percentage in 22 appearances this season for Karpat’s junior club. As Dorion notes, he will be an interesting candidate for the Finnish World Junior team, where he would be tested against the best similarly-aged players in the world.
With the Senators goaltending depth chart quite full at the moment, there’s no rush to Merilainen’s development. The team already has Matt Murray signed for the next three seasons, Anton Forsberg is coming back next year, and Joey Daccord is already under contract through 2022-23. Filip Gustavsson, who looks like the team’s next starting goaltender, is a restricted free agent, while 20-year-old Kevin Mandolese and Mads Sogaard are also in the system. At a position where it is so difficult to accurately predict future NHL success, the Senators have decided to gather quite a few prospects and see who pans out.