Saturday: The Canadiens announced that Niku suffered a concussion on the play and is out indefinitely.
Friday: Newly signed Montreal Canadiens defenseman Sami Niku has left tonight’s preseason game against the Ottawa Senators and won’t return. The team reports he suffered an upper-body injury, leaving the game after a hit from Ottawa’s Josh Norris.
Niku signed a one-year, two-way deal with Montreal on September 24 after having his contract with the Winnipeg Jets mutually terminated. It was going to be the second year of a two-year deal for him with a cap hit of $725,000.
Drafted 198th overall in 2015, Niku’s stock rose steadily within the Winnipeg organization after his draft year. He had two impressive seasons with JYP in the Liiga in 2015-16 and 2016-17, tallying 38 points in 97 games while holding his own defensively in a professional league.
It hasn’t gone nearly as smoothly for Niku in the NHL, though, struggling to land a full-time spot with the team. Niku spent the majority of 2020-21 on the taxi squad, getting into just six games with Winnipeg and no AHL time whatsoever. Over a four-year career in Winnipeg, Niku’s gotten into 54 games, scoring two goals and eight assists for 10 points.
Niku was hoping a change of scenery and an uncertain defense in Montreal could translate into a consistent lineup spot this season. With Shea Weber missing the entire year and Alexander Romanov possibly moving into a top-four role, there’s space to fight for on the bottom pairing. Without a more extended internal scouting of their newly acquired talent, though, Niku’s opportunities to enter the lineup could be more limited than otherwise. He’ll be fighting for games played with more experienced talents like Brett Kulak and Chris Wideman. It’s not at all a guarantee that Niku is able to translate this one-year deal into a full-time role.