We are in the dregs of summer, so we take a critical look at the Winnipeg Jets organizational cupboards and highlight who we feel are the Jets’ “Top 20 Prospects” when looking at a combination of potential and probability of positive impact for the franchise.
We continue our prospect profile looking across the water to the Jets’ Finnish defenseman, Sami Niku.
|Age: 20||Position: LD|
|Height: 6’0″||Weight: 179 lbs|
|Draft Year: 2015||Round: Seven|
Niku was the second time the Winnipeg Jets drafted a European defender in the seventh round, with Marcus Karlstrom being the first, but this time around things have been a bit different.
For starters, Niku was projected prior to his draft-eligible season to be a second or third round pick; he then proceeded to fall on draft day. Some have speculated a disappointing international year for the Finns, while others believe that Niku’s performance in the Mestis had to do with his fall, despite the fact the left-shot defender put up 25 points in 39 games in a professional men’s league, just four points fewer in same number of games played than the second-round drafted forward Julius Nattinen.
Read More: 2015 Prospect Profiles: #19 Sami Niku
The smooth skating offensive defender had an excellent Draft+1 year, putting up 11 points in 38 games in the Liiga with an impressive defensive showing for the gold medal Finnish World Junior team. Niku’s point per game production was the highest for under 20 defenders and the fourth highest for under 20 skaters. With a 53.8 per cent Corsi, Niku actually was one of the best shot differential rookies in the entire Liiga.
While Niku is a legitimate prospect, and is projected at providing more value than the average seventh round draft selection, one reason why Niku is so high is that organizational environment impacts the probability a player hits their celling. The Jets don’t have much in terms of left-shot defenders, both in the NHL and their prospect cupboards. Less competition increases the potential for opportunity for Sami Niku to make a claim.
Models like PCS and pGPS have one deficiency when it comes to European players, in that many do not cross the pond because of factors other than skill and play, unlike North American players. We see this with the Niku’s cohorts, with only four of 34 statistical cohorts making the NHL but all four peaked as top-four defenders, with none playing in third-pairing or depth positions. This is because many Europeans will not come over to North America to potentially take a large pay cut in the AHL.
So, while Niku only has 11 percent of his statistical cohorts making the NHL (over double the average for a seventh round selection), this undervalues what his true upside potential and how Niku could be a player of great value for the Winnipeg Jets.