Niklas Backstrom was given a four-year, $24-million extension before the trade deadline (Photo by Bruce Kluckhohn/Getty Images)
In our ongoing quest to name the top-10 current NHL players from each European hockey power – we began with the Czechs and the Swedes – this week we’re running down the best Finns still active.
10. Tuomo Ruutu, Right Wing, Carolina
The 26-year-old is having the best year of his career, mainly because he’s managed to stay healthy for the first time since his 2003-04 rookie season. Good health means Ruutu-the-younger is now more valuable than older brother Jarkko. He’s logging 18-plus minutes of ice time per night and, with 20 goals and 45 points, is on pace to smash his career bests.
9. Jere Lehtinen, Right Wing, Dallas
The 35-year-old has been slowed by injuries in recent seasons and has lost a step with age, but the three-time Selke Trophy winner is a crafty, responsible veteran and still one of the more valuable Stars. Now in his 13th NHL season, the seven-time 20-goal man is still seeing more than 19 minutes of ice per game and his .66 points-per-game average this season is none too shabby.
8. Teemu Selanne, Right Wing, Anaheim
The ageless wonder – he’ll be 39 in July – isn’t the 40-goal sniper he was two seasons ago, but is still one of the NHL’s more dangerous power play producers; his 14 power play goals are good for sixth in the league. With 20 goals overall and 40 points in just 50 games this year, Selanne is still producing at a decent clip.
7. Joni Pitkanen, Defense, Carolina
Pitkanen looks to have rebounded after a down season in Edmonton. The puck-moving, fourth-overall pick in 2002 is playing more than 25 minutes a game for the surging Hurricanes and has six goals and 28 points to boot.
6. Kimmo Timonen, Defense, Philadelphia
Simply put, Timonen is a horse. He plays nearly 25 minutes a game, is a plus-15 and has three goals and 33 points this season. The soon-to-be 34-year-old, 10-year NHL veteran is the heart and soul of Philly’s blueline, leading it in every major statistical category.
5. Pekka Rinne, Goalie, Nashville
The rookie has usurped Dan Ellis as the Predators’ No. 1 netminder and is running with it. He’s third in the NHL in goals-against average at 2.27, his .921 save percentage is sixth and he’s tied for second in the league with six shutouts. If Rinne continues playing at this level, he’ll be one of the top-three Finns in the NHL sooner than later.
4. Olli Jokinen, Center, Calgary
No player benefited from the trade deadline more than Jokinen, who moved from perennial doormat Phoenix to Stanley Cup contender Calgary. The 6-foot-3, 218-pounder has 24 goals and 45 points thus far; not great numbers, but ones that should go up as he gets more ice time with the likes of Jarome Iginla and Mike Cammalleri. Although he has his detractors, expect Jokinen to be invigorated as he heads towards the first playoff berth of his NHL career.
3. Mikko Koivu, Center, Minnesota
Saku Koivu didn’t make this list, but the family torch has been ably passed to his little brother. Kid Koivu was the sixth pick of the 2001 draft and the 6-foot-3, 207-pounder has become the highest scoring Finn in the NHL by a wide margin – his 60 points are 15 more than Nos. 10 and 4 on this list and 17 more than his closest Minnesota teammate. We can only imagine where Koivu’s offensive totals would be if Marian Gaborik had been healthy this season, or if Koivu didn’t play for the defensive-minded Wild.
2. Miikka Kiprusoff, Goalie, Calgary
Kiprusoff, the 2006 Vezina Trophy winner, reminds us of Grant Fuhr in his prime. He doesn’t have the best numbers in the league and may let in a few softies when games are well in- or out-of-hand, but he makes the big saves when they’re needed most. Kipper also plays pretty much every game for the Flames and currently leads the league with 39 victories.
1. Niklas Backstrom. Goalie, Minnesota
The goaltending factory that is Finland has a new prototype in Backstrom. The 31-year-old is making the most of his unquestioned-No. 1 status and has the numbers to go along with his lofty perch atop this list. Playing for a team currently out of the playoffs, Backstrom is tied for third in the league in wins with 30, is fifth in goals-against average (2.36), tied for sixth in save percentage (.921) and second in shutouts (six). Aside from Koivu, Backstrom’s play is the only thing keeping the Wild in the playoff hunt.
The THN.com Top 10 appears Wednesdays only on TheHockeyNews.com.
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