Most experts argue that the Winnipeg Jets have one of, if not the, deepest prospect pools in the NHL.
Yet here we are talking about a seventh round pick. Not just any seventh round pick, but one from the recent 2015 NHL Entry Draft.
Sami Niku is an offensively gifted left hand shot defenseman playing against grown men in Europe. He moves the puck well against top competition and has a tonne of upside.
We continue our summer prospect profile series, checking in at #19.
Niku may be a seventh round selection, but he’s not your normal seventh round selection and most likely was well deserving of an earlier selection.
The young blue liner started the year as part of a crop of very promising Finish prospects. The Fins came home from Malmo 2014 World Juniors with a gold medal and had reinforcements coming with the next wave. 2015 draft eligible Mikko Rantanen, Sami Niku, Sebastian Aho, and Roope Hintz joined the Fin veterans.
Success did not come though.
The Fins lost every game except for one round robin match against the Germans.
Despite being the youngest member of the Finish defensive core, Niku’s performance was looked as a disappointment. Disappointment then became to be a catch phrase with Niku.
The prospect who many thought the previous year would be ranked in the early second to third round fell. By the end of the season, NHL Central Scouting ranked Niku as the 56th ranked European skater.
Should 2014-2015 really look to be a disappointment for Niku though?
The numbers suggest otherwise.
Historically speaking there are three predictors of success for young prospects: height, scoring, and playing in toughest./oldest league possible.
Niku was the third highest scoring player under 19 in the Mestis, the second strongest Fin men’s league. His point per game pace was the 6th highest of any defender with 20 or more games played. Only three defenders under 19 played more games in the Liiga, the strongest Fin men’s league.
Prospect Cohort Success looks at similar scoring players at the same position, age, height, and league, and then estimates the probability the player makes the NHL and their point per game pace if they do.
PCS did not think that Niku’s 17-year-old year was disappointing:
A 22.7 per cent PCS rating aligns more towards the early mid-rounds that Niku was originally thought as, not the seventh round where he was drafted.
Interestingly enough, Niku’s 25 points in 39 games in the Mestis and 1 point in 12 games in the Liiga was fairly similar to teammate Julius Nattinen’s 29 points in 39 games and 3 points in 9 games. Even the year prior the two were comparable, with Niku’s 14 points in 20 games and Nattinen’s 27 points in 32 games in the Finish junior league’s.
Nattinen though was drafted in the second round by the Anaheim Ducks. Nattinen is also a forward.
Suffice to say, it looks like the Jets have a potential steal in Sami Niku. This is why he ranks in the Jets Top 20 Prospects, even ahead of those the Jets drafted above him.
Like many of the Jets’ prospects, Niku has a big year ahead of him. The young puck moving defender will be looked to take a big step forward, as he takes a regular role in the much tougher Liiga level for JYP.
Here are some highlights from his 2014/15 season, courtesy the Jets Nation’s own Anthony Lenting: