Yesterday, the Nashville Predators officially signed Joonas Lyytinen to a two-year entry level contract. By doing so the Predators organization has successfully advanced everyone from their 2014 NHL Draft class and made them professional hockey players in North America: Kevin Fiala, Vladislav Kamenev, Jack Dougherty, Justin Kirkland, Viktor Arvidsson, and Aaron Irving.
The last name on that list, Irving, made his pro debut as a member of the Admirals on an amateur try-out contract during the 2015-16 season. Behind the scenes, during that exact same time, Lyytinen and goaltender Janne Juvonen had joined the Admirals after completing their respective seasons in Europe. They traveled with the team, participated in practices, and were eventually tabbed to professional try-out contracts prior to the second game of the playoffs for the Admirals. But – they never played. Which happens. Alex Carrier was in that exact same boat at the time after he completed his junior playing season. It’s meant to serve as a glimpse at the road ahead, meet the coaches and players, and to understand the team and the city you’d be playing in long in advance of the debut season.
What is curious is that neither Lyytinen or Juvonen did come back to Milwaukee or the AHL for the 2016-17 season. Instead, the Predators and Admirals brought in Jonas Gunnarsson and Mark Visentin rather than the young Finnish goaltender. And Lyytinen returned to his longtime Finnish team KalPa.
Yet, here we are with Lyytinen signing an entry level contract with the Predators only eighteen days after he signed a two-year contract with Kärpät as a free agent in Finland. It’s a little bit confusing.
What isn’t confusing is that Lyytinen’s stay back home last season was hugely positive for him. The Espoo, Finland native suited up with KalPa for 54 games while recording 24 points (8 goals, 16 assists). Those are all either matching careers bests or setting career bests. The most important one for me is the career best 54 games being played while competing at the senior level in Finland’s top flight: Liiga. He was 21-years of age during the course of the season and shrugged off a lesser 2015-16 season with one closer in strength to his full-season debut campaign of 2014-15 in Liiga. In my eyes he hit his sophomore slump and learned to make the right adjustments to vault forward.
It would seem that Lyytinen’s delayed arrival might have been worth it. But there is always going to be the question of will what he did on defense in Europe translate into how he has to play defense in the North American game. In recent years defensemen such as Johan Alm, Kristian Näkyvä, and Mikko Vainonen haven’t exactly been able to make that leap. In Vainonen’s case that remained to be true even after two years dabbling in the OHL with the Kingston Frontenacs. Will Lyytinen stick or end up heading back home where he basically had already signed a new two-year contract with Kärpät? That’s a storyline that will be coming up throughout the 2017-18 season.
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