Best current Finland-born NHL player debated
Locally in town there are skill competitions and training, free skating, ice hockey activations and e-gaming. The Stanley Cup, an alumni showcase and a youth hockey tournament will also take place on Saturday. There will also be a viewer party for the Colorado Avalanche vs. Detroit Red Wings game (1 p.m. ET; NHLN, SN1, BSDET, ALT, ESPN+, SN NOW).
There have been 255 Finnish-born players who have appeared in at least one game in NHL history (regular season or playoffs), including 51 this season.
As we celebrate the first day of ice hockey in Finland, a group of NHL.com employees discussed who is the most exciting Finnish player in the NHL right now.
Here are their answers in alphabetical order.
Sebastian AhCarolina hurricanes
Aho is not only the most exciting Finnish player in the NHL right now, the 25-year-old is also the most underrated. This guy does everything for the Hurricanes – scoring goals (27), winning face-offs (51.7 percent) and taking penalties. But this question is about excitement, and while Aho is certainly not a flashy player, he’s excited because every time the puck is on his stick, something big can happen. That’s a credit to his speed and incredible skating ability. He is also strong as his seven winning goals ranks second among Finnish-born players Mikko Rantanen the Colorado Avalanche (nine). He has also scored three shorthanded goals, tying with Roop Hintz of the Dallas Stars as the first among all Finns. Aho plays excellent defense and is one of the best two-way centers in the game. — Bill Price, Editor-in-Chief
Alexander BarkovFlorida Panther
OK, I know his numbers are down, 58 points (17 goals, 41 assists) in 54 games this season compared to 88 points (39 goals, 49 assists) in 67 games last season. But the striker is always a goal threat. He’s the matchmaker and leads the Panthers with five crucial goals this season. After a knee injury that kept him out of three games, Barkov scored the fastest hat-trick in team history (15-22) as Florida defeated the Montreal Canadiens 7-2 on December 29. And he’s got a great two-way game, as evidenced by his win of the Selke Trophy as the league’s top defensive forward in 2020-21. Barkov is a key part of the Panthers core (he was their #2 pick in the 2013 NHL Draft) and is trying to get the Panthers into the Stanley Cup Playoffs for a fourth straight season. — Tracey Myers, staff writer
Miro HeiskanenDallas Stars
Heiskanen has been looking to play a bigger role on the offensive side of the ice this season, and the 23-year-old defenseman hasn’t disappointed, having set NHL career-highs in assists (47), points (57) and power play points (25) in his fifth NHL season. He is currently the top Finnish-born defenseman in the NHL and outside of the forward Jason Robertson and goalkeeper Jake Oettinger, could be the most valuable player for the Stars. The up-tempo style implemented by coach Peter DeBoer and the awakening John Klingerberg via pre-season free agency have really benefited. While he’s certainly one of the better skaters of any NHL defenseman, it’s his hockey IQ that sets him apart and earns him elite status. Heiskanen doesn’t get enough credit for the way he defends, especially against top players every night. He is the second-highest picking pick of the 2017 NHL draft behind Kal Makar of the Colorado Avalanche and leads the Stars in average ice time per game (25:32). — Mike G. Morreale, staff writer
patrick laineColumbus Blue jackets
Is the Columbus Blue Jackets forward as good as we thought after being picked at No. 2 back? Austin Matthews by the Winnipeg Jets in 2016? No. Is he still one of the most exciting players in the game? Yes. Many nights, Laine brings his stunning skills together and is worth the price of admission alone. The 6ft 5 forward has an intoxicating blend of speed and power that sends defenders fleeing and goalies on edge. He has 197 goals in 458 NHL regular-season games, the second most in his draft class behind Matthews (290). His ability to make something out of nothing can still snap you out of your seat, which is the definition of excitement. — Shawn P. Roarke, Executive Editor
Mikko Rantanen, Colorado Avalanche
Exciting? I’ll see all these players and tease you on Rantanen. The forward has been an under-the-radar contender for the Hart Trophy as NHL’s MVP this season, and carried the reigning Stanley Cup winner Colorado Avalanche through a series of injuries that marred this season. He has 82 points (45 goals, 37 assists) and, as mentioned, nine winning goals. Rantanen is able to use his size (6ft 4, 215lbs) and physical strength to his advantage, which adds to the other dynamic parts of his game, skating, vision and intelligence. He’s a real power forward, playing on a team that can shoot an opponent out of the building. And while he may still not have the recognition of some of his teammates (Makar and Nathan MacKinnon comes to mind), he’s definitely a guy to keep an eye on when watching The Avalanche. — Amalie Benjamin, staff writer
Already in 2016 in an informal conversation with Sydney Crosby in Pittsburgh via his pal and colleague Cole Harbour, Nova Scotia MacKinnon captained the Penguins more interested in another Colorado Avalanche forward. “I was really impressed by this Rantanen boy,” Crosby said. “He’s a damn good player. It won’t be long before everyone sees that.” Consider us convinced. More importantly, he is confident about his native Finland. In the opener of the two-game Global Series between the Avalanche and Columbus Blue Jackets on November 4 in Tampere, Finland, Rantanen, who was playing his first NHL game of the regular season in his home country, netted a hat-trick 6-3 Colorado- Victory. As he celebrated his third goal, the crowd of 12,882 at Nokia Arena began chanting his name… Mikko Rantanen, Mikko Rantanen! “Gave me a few chills,” he said after the game, his eyes filling. It seems that Crosby and the Finnish fans are excited about the excitement Rantanen brings, so who am I to argue with them? — Mike Zeisberger, staff writer
Juuse SarosNashville predators
Saros followed in the footsteps of his compatriot Pekka Rinne with the Predators and has established himself as one of the NHL’s top goaltenders over the past three seasons. But Saros is doing it differently from Rinne, who retired in 2021, and most goalkeepers in the league. Listed at 5-foot-11 and 180 pounds, Saros is not the typical tall goalie who relies heavily on his height and technique. The 27-year-old makes up for his lack of size with his athleticism and ability to position himself to stop shots, which often results in brilliant saves. This style can frustrate opponents and works well for Saros, who was a finalist for the NHL’s Vezina Trophy as the NHL’s top goaltender when he was 38-25-3 with 2.64 goals against average, .918 saving percentage and four shutouts to Nashville help qualify for last season’s Stanley Cup playoffs. That season, Saros was selected to represent the Predators at the 2023 Honda NHL-Star Game, once again leaving them in contention for a playoff spot despite being sellers before the March 3 NHL trade deadline. In 51 games this season, he’s 26-19-6 with a 2.73 GAA, .917 save percentage and one shutout. — Tom Gulitti, staff writer