The Toronto Maple Leafs have taken to raiding the Finnish national team this off-season.
The Leafs agreed to a one-year deal with playmaking centre Petri Kontiola on Thursday morning, bringing back the former Chicago Blackhawks draft pick (a seventh rounder in 2004) for an audition as a depth centre next season.
Kontiola turns 30 in October and has played only 12 games in the NHL but still received a lot of interest from NHL teams looking to take a flier on a guy who has been productive in the KHL and internationally. He had a very good turn at the Olympics for the Finns, too, which only helped his case and that of teammate Jori Lehtera, who signed with St. Louis.
Kontiola becomes the second Finn in three days to end up with Toronto after Leo Komarov did the same on July 1. Leafs GM Dave Nonis flew over to Finland prior to free agency to help get the deals done.
"I think he'll be the surprise of the NHL this year," Kontiola's agent Mark Gandler said on Thursday. "Big, strong, smart, skilled. Good skater, good defensively."
It's believed he received a little more than $1-million from the Leafs. The deal doesn't come with a whole lot of risk given Toronto can always place him on waivers and/or loan him back to a European team and get out of the contract.
Kontiola for his part has said publicly that he's anxious for another shot at the NHL and had no intention of playing another year in Europe.
"I have been thinking a lot about it, and I think it's time for me to change something in my life," Kontiola said earlier this week when he left the KHL.
"I want to spend more time with my daughter and be challenged professionally. Several NHL teams implied that if I were released... they would be able to put together an offer. I am turning 30 this year, and I feel as though it is my last chance to make an impact in the NHL.
"It happened largely due to family matters, but it is also due to the fact that this could be my last chance to win the Stanley Cup."
Toronto obviously has some holes up front after missing out on free agent centres Dave Bolland and Brian Boyle earlier this week, and Kontiola can play either down the middle or on the right wing. It's expected he and Komarov will spend time together on a line after having some success together in international play.
In the limited data we have available from his last stint in the NHL in Chicago, Kontiola did a very nice job controlling play on a line mainly with Robert Lang, but that's six years ago and a very small sample size.
He was also productive in the AHL before heading back to Europe, where he's led Magnitogorsk and Chelyabinsk in scoring.
His strengths are running a power play and as a setup man, not necessarily defensively, so working him in on the Leafs bottom six could give them a little offence there.
How big of a role Kontiola ends up with is going to depend on how good of a training camp he has and whether or not the Leafs add another centre. They remain in talks for free agent David Legwand, but he has a number of suitors and may command upwards of $4-million.
Leafs projected 2014-15 lineup(Estimated $4.9-million remaining in cap space after RFAs signed)
Van Riemsdyk – Bozak – Kessel
Lupul – Kadri – Santorelli
Komarov – Kontiola – Clarkson
Bodie – Holland – Frattin/Ashton
Phaneuf – Robidas
Gardiner – Franson
Rielly – Polak/Granberg