There was a point, a few years ago, when Sami Niku seemed destined for NHL success. The Finn had dominated the minor leagues in his first season in North America, earning the AHL’s Eddie Shore Award as the best defenseman in the league, after putting up 54 points in 76 games for the Manitoba Moose. He was a smooth skater with plenty of offensive upside that didn’t suffer from a lack of size.
Now, before he even turns 26, he’s back in Europe. Niku has signed a one-year contract with JYP, the Liiga program that developed him in Finland.
Niku, 25, spent last season with the Montreal Canadiens organization, playing 13 games in the NHL and recording six points. His play in the minor leagues was still strong (especially in the playoffs) but because he didn’t reach a certain number of games with the Canadiens, he qualified for Group VI unrestricted free agency this summer.
In 67 career games in the NHL, spread over parts of five seasons, Niku registered 16 points. Whether he ever gets another chance at that level remains to be seen but his name shouldn’t be entirely forgotten, given his relative youth.