We know the basics about recent Sharks addition Antti Suomela. He lead last year’s Liiga in scoring with JYP Jyväskylä, but after San Jose beat numerous other teams to sign this undrafted free agent, what exactly can he contribute to the squad?
Just entering his physical prime at 24 years old, this season is the perfect opportunity for Finnish born and trained centre Suomela to earn himself another, more lucrative, NHL contract. Playing around fifteen minutes a night in 59 regular season Liiga games, Suomela notched 21 goals and 39 assists, putting himself top of his team, and the league for points. He had an uneventful playoffs, but helped his team to a Champions Hockey League championship with a much more pedestrian 6 points in 12 games.
Suomela has appeared in five preseason games with San Jose, developing chemistry with fellow Finn Joonas Donskoi. At camp he’s been noticed for his lower body strength, but physicality is an aspect of his game criticised before he came to North America.
His game itself offers a quick wrist shot and the hand eye coordination for some pretty nifty tip in goals. He has the wheels (speed) and the hands to keep up with the North American game. Playing well in front of the net allowed him to pot a decent chunk of his Liiga goals and he receives passes well. You can watch his 16-17 highlights here:
The first preseason game against Anaheim, Suomela matched up against Getzlaf, so his -1.88% Corsi relative is understandable, considering he’s a 3/4C who has never played a regular season NHL game matching up against a seasoned NHL 1C. The line of Labanc-Suomela-Donskoi held up pretty well versus the Getzlaf line, but it wasn’t their best.
In the 4-1 win over Anaheim on the 18th, the Labanc-Suomela-Donskoi line dominated on the stats sheet, but didn’t fare well four nights later against the Vegas Golden Knights, where the roster was much closer to what we’re going to see on opening night. It was a poor preseason showing, where Timo Meier led the team with 4 shots on goal.
The final preseason game saw him on a line with a demoted Evander Kane, matching against Vegas’ Marchessault-Karlsson-Smith line. On the stats sheet, the Sharks dominated possession but failed to find the net. Joe Thornton mentioned earlier that he would be focusing on not getting hurt, as opposed to finding the net. The Kane-Suomela-Donskoi line didn’t blow anyone away, but they held steady enough to escape being on ice for a single of the five goals against.
Throughout the preseason, Antti Suomela stood out as a sure fire NHL centre, though the criticisms about his physicality have followed him from the Liiga over to North America. With Suomela on the third line, the 4C spot is open for Goodrow (who has impressed this preseason), Chartier (a surprise standout) and Gambrell (a late season call up last year) to battle it out as the season progresses. Goodrow has experience and the trust of Pete DeBoer on his side, and as such is pencilled in to centre the fourth line on October 3rd.
If Suomela can keep his preseason performance to a similar standard as the regular season begins it’s familiar grind, he could have a pretty good first NHL season for himself. The regular season starts in two days, and the centre depth is tentatively locked in, while wingers continue the regular bounce up and down the lines.