July 3, 2020

Winnipeg
27° C, A few clouds

Full Forecast

WEATHER ALERT

Help us deliver reliable news during this pandemic.

We are working tirelessly to bring you trusted information about COVID-19. Support our efforts by subscribing today.

No Thanks Subscribe

Already a subscriber?

Advertisement

Advertise With Us

It will soon be Sami time

Finnish blue-liner could see action as early as Saturday

MIKAELA MACKENZIE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS</p><p>Sami Niku takes part in Jets practice at Bell MTS Place in Winnipeg on Friday. The young Finnish blueliner may see game action for the NHL squad.</p>

MIKAELA MACKENZIE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Sami Niku takes part in Jets practice at Bell MTS Place in Winnipeg on Friday. The young Finnish blueliner may see game action for the NHL squad.

Nothing has gone according to script for Sami Niku this season.

The Finnish-born defenceman figured he'd crack the Winnipeg roster out of training camp and be a key element as the Jets blue line underwent an extreme makeover.

And after suiting up for 30 NHL games a year ago and a bunch more watching from the press box, his expectation wasn't pie-in-the-sky thinking. 

Indeed, there were holes to fill on the back end in the fall, yet Niku's name has only been above a Jets locker-room stall once during the first half of the 2019-20 campaign. The rest of the time he either served the Manitoba Moose or was recovering from injuries — until now.

With an injury to Nathan Beaulieu, the Jets recalled the smooth-skating Finn on Thursday and he took the warm-up skate at Bell MTS Place prior to his club's battle with the Toronto Maple Leafs. He's destined to play on the team's four-game road trip, perhaps as early as Saturday in Minnesota against the Central Division-rival Wild.

"It feels really good and I was excited. I heard that Beau was hurt, so I was a little bit expecting they might call me up, but it's a good feeling and nice to be back," said Niku following practice Thursday. "It hasn't been the year I wanted it to be, but it's just bad luck and now I'm good to go again. I have to stay healthy and just play my own game.

"My goal was to play the whole year in the NHL and it didn't happen. But now I'm here and I just want to stay here and play as good as possible."

Things went south rather quickly for Niku when he and forward Kristian Vesalainen got into a car crash the first day of training camp and suffered some bumps and bruises. Later in camp, Niku missed time with an injury, never really got back on track and began the year with the Manitoba Moose, the Jets' American Hockey League affiliate.

He had a one-game promotion for a game in Pittsburgh but was sent back to the Moose after that. And then the injuries started to pile up and he missed two long stretches before finally being available to Manitoba head coach Pascal Vincent on Dec. 29. He played a pair of games for the Moose before getting being recalled this week.

In 18 games with the Moose, the 2017-18 AHL defenceman of the year had three goals and 11 helpers.

Niku has plenty of the tools required to be an NHL regular, including slick foot work, quick puck movement and natural offensive instincts, but his size and strength, defensive work and gap control clearly posed some problems last season.

The 23-year-old said he believes he's taken major steps to address those points of concern.

"I was working really hard for a month when I didn't play. I worked out every day and got stronger, too. I'm in better shape before the injury, probably. I added like five pounds," said Niku, who is listed at six feet and 194 pounds. "(Defence) is getting better and better. I don't worry about that. I know I can defend, too. The offence will be there, but of course I can be harder and harder in the D zone. But it's getting better every year."

It now comes down to a decision between Niku and Carl Dahlstrom by Jets head coach Paul Maurice.

"We're going to see him sooner rather than later, unless we get on some kind of a run. We still haven't made our lineup, based on other issues we're dealing with on our back end, for (Saturday). But we're going to want to get him up to speed and get him in pretty quick," said Maurice.

On social media, some Jets fans have been clamouring for his addition to the roster since opening night, and the #FreeNiku message has made its way around Manitoba and to Finland and back. 

Niku saw a sign in the crowd Thursday with that hashtag that made him laugh.

"It means a lot that the fans like me," Niku said. "I have done something right. I'm happy."

 

jason.bell@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @WFPJasonBell

Jason Bell

Jason Bell
Assistant sports editor

Jason Bell wanted to be a lawyer when he was a kid. The movie The Paper Chase got him hooked on the idea of law school and, possibly, falling in love with someone exactly like Lindsay Wagner (before she went all bionic).

Read full biography

Advertisement

Advertise With Us

Your support has enabled us to provide free access to stories about COVID-19 because we believe everyone deserves trusted and critical information during the pandemic.

Our readership has contributed additional funding to give Free Press online subscriptions to those that can’t afford one in these extraordinary times — giving new readers the opportunity to see beyond the headlines and connect with other stories about their community.

To those who have made donations, thank you.

To those able to give and share our journalism with others, please Pay it Forward.

The Free Press has shared COVID-19 stories free of charge because we believe everyone deserves access to trusted and critical information during the pandemic.

While we stand by this decision, it has undoubtedly affected our bottom line.

After nearly 150 years of reporting on our city, we don’t want to stop any time soon. With your support, we’ll be able to forge ahead with our journalistic mission.

If you believe in an independent, transparent, and democratic press, please consider subscribing today.

We understand that some readers cannot afford a subscription during these difficult times and invite them to apply for a free digital subscription through our Pay it Forward program.

The Free Press would like to thank our readers for their patience while comments were not available on our site. We're continuing to work with our commenting software provider on issues with the platform. In the meantime, if you're not able to see comments after logging in to our site, please try refreshing the page.

You can comment on most stories on The Winnipeg Free Press website. You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or digital subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

Have Your Say

Have Your Say

Comments are open to The Winnipeg Free Press print or digital subscribers only. why?

Have Your Say

Comments are open to The Winnipeg Free Press Subscribers only. why?

By submitting your comment, you agree to abide by our Community Standards and Moderation Policy. These guidelines were revised effective February 27, 2019. Have a question about our comment forum? Check our frequently asked questions.

Advertisement

Advertise With Us