26-Year-Old Defenseman – New Jersey Devils
Sami Vatanen Contract Information:
Signed a four-year, $19.5 million contract extension in June of 2016. Deal includes a partial no-trade clause between 2018-20.
Vatanen dished out a pair of power-play helpers in Tuesday's 6-4 win over Montreal.
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Sami Vatanen: Past News Updates ( ▲ View most recent update )
RotoWire's Preseason Outlooks
The most dangerous offensive weapon on the Ducks’ blue line, Vatanen set new career highs in points (38) and shots on goal (140), but his nine goals fell three short of the 12 he put up in 2014-15 in four less games. Vatanen is a smooth skater, a dynamic puck-mover and does well quarterbacking the league’s most potent power-play unit (23.1 percent last year), but he’s rather diminutive for a defenseman at 5-foot-10, 183-pounds. Not only is Vatanen more likely to get bumped off the puck by the opposition due to his stature, but injuries are a concern as well, as evidenced by the 26 games he’s missed over the last two campaigns. Still, his talent is undeniable and he’s just coming into his prime as a 25-year-old in his fourth full NHL season, so all signs point to Vatanen continuing to progress. Additionally, his average ice time was 21:19 in 2015-16, leaving him with plenty of room for additional scoring opportunities should new head coach Randy Carlyle decide to grant him more looks. The Finnish rearguard ended last season 29th in scoring among defensemen, but it’s probably best to expect that rank to improve as the Ducks’ core of players continues to improve.
Vatanen emerged as a lethal offensive blueliner in 2014-15, finishing third among all NHL defensemen with seven power-play goals. It's an accomplishment made all the more impressive considering Vatanen missed 15 games with a leg injury, with the 24-year-old finishing the campaign with totals of 12 goals and 37 points, establishing himself as one of the top young players at his position. Never afraid to join the rush, Vatanen built off his superb regular season during the Stanley Cup Playoffs, where he recorded three goals and 11 points in 16 games. While he’s only played 123 career NHL contests, Vatanen has tremendous offensive instincts and has made great progress in two NHL seasons. He’s the quarterback on a lethal power-play unit featuring Ryan Getzlaf, Ryan Kesler, and Corey Perry, and led all Anaheim blueliners last season with 122 shots on goal. If he's able to avoid the health issues that plagued him a season ago, Vatanen could become a top-10 fantasy defenseman in both 2015-16 and the years to come.
Vatanen’s second NHL season saw him substantially increase both his playing time and his productivity. But he still saw a lot of healthy scratches, particularly late in the season. Stephane Robidas has departed to Toronto, so those healthy scratches for Vatanen should decline. And he should get a shot at the point on the first power-play unit. This could be the start of something beautiful for his fantasy owners -- 35 points are within reach.
Vatanen is a small, offensive dynamo who scored two goals in the eight games he played during the 2012-2013 regular season. He'd be considered a stud in the making if his parents had given him the gift of three more inches in height, but alas that didn't happen. Still, the Ducks have a serviceable defense corps that helps insulate players' shortcomings (see Souray, Sheldon), so Vatanen could be eased into NHL time nice and easy on the left coast. He has the tool belt to be an elite power-play QB, but like we said, those tools just hang a little closer to the ground than for most. Watch his development and don't be afraid to stash him on keeper rosters. Single-year leagues need to use more caution than that, so a waiver pick up might be in order.
Vatanen has elite offensive abilities, and if he were over six feet, he'd be on the short list of the best defense prospects in the world. Everyone would know his name and they'd be tossing around words like game-breaker and stud. But he's 5-9 and that seriously changes the adjectives used to describe him. Watch from afar -- if he can show that he can handle his own-zone duties on smaller ice, we might have a sleeper.