Just How Good is Sami Vatanen?


Oct 19, 2014; Anaheim, CA, USA; Anaheim Ducks defenseman Sami Vatanen shoots and scores a goal against the St. Louis Blues in the first period during the game at Honda Center. Mandatory Credit: Richard Mackson-USA TODAY Sports

Like last year, the Anaheim Ducks are off to a seven-game winning streak after giving up six goals in their season opener. Unlike last year, they’ve gotten there with the help of a sturdy defense and a deadly power play. The difference between last year’s Anaheim Ducks and this year’s squad may very well be the emergence of young Finnish defenseman, Sami Vatanen.

Sami Vatanen, age 23 was drafted in the 4th round (106th overall) of the 2009 NHL Entry Draft. The Jyväskylä, Finland native isn’t the largest defenseman around, standing at only 5’10”, 180lbs. Don’t let that fool you—Vatanen is a rising star in the NHL, and an argument could be made that he’s the Ducks’ best defenseman right now.

Vatanen is a prototypical offensive defenseman. He plays a very similar game to Ottawa Senators captain Erik Karlsson. He relies on his excellent skating skills, perfect passes, offensive vision, and a rocket of a slapshot. Sami utilizes his skills brilliantly to drive play to the offensive zone, while putting up a decent amount of points in the process.

Sami Vatanen spent the majority of his time with the Ducks last season. In 48 games, he put up 21 points (6g, 15a). However, he was not completely trusted by Ducks coach Bruce Boudreau. Vatanen saw little powerplay time during the regular season, and was frequently a healthy scratch in favor of other Ducks defensive options.

Once the Ducks acquired Stephane Robidas from the Dallas Stars at the trade deadline, Vatanen was usually the odd man out. In addition to his time in Anaheim, Vatanen spent 8 regular season games with the AHL’s Norfolk Admirals, and an additional 5 playoff games. When Robidas went down with a horrific leg injury in Game 3 of the Western Conference Quarterfinals, Vatanen was called up from the AHL.

Eventually, he found his spot on the third pairing next to defensive defenseman Bryan Allen. More importantly, Vatanen began quarterbacking the first power play unit alongside Cam Fowler, moving captain Ryan Getzlaf down to the half wall.

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The Ducks powerplay, which struggled woefully during the regular season finally had life, and several of the key goals to come against the Los Angeles Kings in the Western Conference Semifinals came on the powerplay.

This year, Vatanen is beginning to be recognized around the league for his offensive prowess. As of today, Vatanen is tied for third in points scored by NHL Defenseman, with 7 (3g, 4a).

All seven of Vatanen’s points have come on the powerplay, which has been immaculate this season. With Vatanen at the helm of the first unit power play, the Ducks have scored on 25% of man-advantages, compared to the 16% clip that the club maintained last season.

While the addition of Ryan Kesler and rookie sensation William Karlsson have certainly helped the Ducks’ powerplay, the success of the extra-man unit can be primarily attributed to Sami Vatanen, who quarterbacks the first unit. His heavy shot from the point creates chaos for opposing teams, and his excellent, quick decision making and perfect passing has been something the Ducks sorely missed last season. Because of Vatanen, the Ducks are able to quickly and efficiently move the puck through the offensive zone, creating better scoring chances, and more of them.

How far can Vatanen go? It’s still too early to tell. As of this morning, Vatanen’s 7 points puts him on pace for 71 points through an 82 game season. While it’s unlikely that he’ll continue to perform at this immaculate clip, it’s not out of the question for Vatanen to put up 40-50 points this year, and he may surpass that yet. Such numbers would instantly put him in the conversation with the league’s best defensemen, like Erik Karlsson, P.K. Subban, Duncan Keith, and Shea Weber.

Of course, Vatanen still has a lot to prove. He still needs to refine his defensive game before he can face tougher competition and receive more minutes. Currently, he sits on the 3rd pairing with Clayton Stoner.

But Vatanen is still young. At 23, he’s just getting started. The Ducks have a tremendous asset in Sami Vatanen, and it’s going to be exciting to watch him come into his own this season, and for years to come.