After terminating his contract with the Winnipeg Jets earlier this month, Sami Niku has found a new home. The Montreal Canadiens have signed the young defenseman to a one-year, two-way contract, one that comes with a considerable minor league salary. Niku will earn just $750K at the NHL level, but $425K in the AHL and also has negotiated a $475K minor league guarantee.
Niku, 24, has frankly dominated the AHL to this point, racking up 80 points in 114 games and winning the Eddie Shore Award as the league’s best defenseman. That minor league success only translated into 54 games at the NHL level with the Jets though, leading to the eventual parting of ways as he looked for a new opportunity.
He’ll find it in Montreal, where the last few spots of the Canadiens’ blue line are still in flux. With Shea Weber out, there are minutes to go around in various situations and David Savard can only take so many of them. Newcomer Chris Wideman seemed a likely candidate to get some powerplay time, but he’ll now be in direct competition with the much younger Niku. Alexander Romanov and Brett Kulak could rotate out of the lineup at times if the Montreal front office decides to keep eight defensemen on the roster for opening day.
The acquisition gives head coach Dominique Ducharme another talented option, but Niku and his representatives also built in some security should he fail to make the roster. A $475K guarantee is a whopping number for a player so young and shows just how effective Niku has been so far in his short career in North America. Remember, he’ll also have to clear waivers if the team tries to send him down.