The Buffalo Sabres have signed a free agent out of Europe in each of the last three years. They’ve brought in Victor Antipin from the KHL, Lawrence Pilut from the SHL, and Arttu Ruoutsalainen from Liiga last summer.
According to a report from Miika Arponen, the Sabres are eyeing another European free agent in forward Eemeli Suomi.
Suomi currently plays with Sabres prospects Oskari Laaksonen and Ruotsalainen for Ilves in Liiga. The 24-year-old forward was second in the Finnish pro league in goals with 26 and third in points with 57 when the league canceled the remainder of their season. He’s been the captain for Ilves the past two seasons and may be ready to make the jump to North America.
Kuka sitä laivaa ohjaisi, jollei Kapteeni itse?— Tampereen Ilves (@ilveshockey) January 25, 2020
Ottelun ratkaisun iski Eemeli Suomi Jasse Ikosen syötöstä. Maali oli Eemelin kauden 19. osuma!
Liiga-videot: https://t.co/xu2ykSwGSg#Ilves #IlvesTallinnassa #Liiga #Telia pic.twitter.com/A5Wiwi3gQX
I looked to a few different sources to get some more information on the player. I first reached out to Jokke Nevalainen, Head of European Scouting for Dobber Prospects, to get his input on the player. Here are his thoughts he shared on Twitter:
Eemeli Suomi has been a very good #Liiga player for 3 years now, gradually getting better, and was a top 3 player in the league this season. A skilled winger with winning attitude. But at age 24, I don't see much NHL upside. Perhaps an AHL/NHL tweener. https://t.co/7FypBziuPm— Jokke Nevalainen (@JokkeNevalainen) March 16, 2020
The next person I contacted was prospect guru, Kris Baker. Kris provided some great detail on Suomi. Here are his thoughts on the player:
“He’s an interesting player. Comes off as very heady and mature. Really makes that team go offensively and doesn’t make many mistakes. One thing about he and Ruotsalainen is that they both had targets on their backs after the seasons they had last year. They get hit and teams look to shut them down. They keep grinding and producing.
Overall he plays at a good tempo. He’s not super flashy, but he has a very good handle on the puck and acts unselfishly. As Ruotsalainen QBs the o-zone, he’s the guy that gets to the net. He doesn’t hang out on the outside all that much. When AR got hurt, he played some center for a couple games but moved back to wing.
His success will probably boil down to the skating. Shocker I know. He has good quickness and I’ve seen him successfully race into space on the big rinks, but he’s not super explosive so you wonder what that looks like in NA. I don’t think his skating is a negative per se, but its reasonable to think it’s a major factor in how he does over here. It’s the acceleration out of the blocks that will be tested in my opinion.
Makes perfect sense for both to look hard at this. Sabres obviously know him well and need skilled forwards more than anyone. He is ready for the test to see if he can hang or not. Will be interesting.”
Similar to Ruotsalainen, Suomi has one year remaining on his contract with Ilves after this season. However, their situations are slightly different. Sumoi is already 24-years-old and will only be able to sign a one-year, entry-level contract with the Sabres. As opposed to Ruotsalainen being able to sign a three-year, entry-level deal because he was 21-years-old.
The Sabres will likely want to have Suomi stay in North America next season, even if it’s in the AHL because he is further along the development path. If he goes back to Finland next season, the Sabres will be burning the one year on his entry-level contract and essentially only signed him to retain his rights.
We’ll see how this plays out and if the Sabres end up bringing in the Finnish forward. They could use all the help they can get at that position.