Sami Lepisto (John Berry/Getty Images)
Sami Lepisto has spent the past four seasons in the KHL, but the veteran defenseman could be heading back to the NHL in 2016-17. Lepisto, 31, scored 30 points in 60 games this season and added 12 points in 18 playoff games.
It’s been four seasons since Sami Lepisto last suited up in the NHL, but the 31-year-old defenseman could be heading back to North America next season after an impressive offensive season in the KHL.
In an interview with Championat.com, Salavat Yulaev GM Leonid Vaysfeld confirmed Lepisto is drawing some interest from NHL clubs and could return to the league as soon as next season. Lepisto has enjoyed one of his best offensive seasons during his first campaign with Salavat, scoring 11 goals and 30 points in 60 games during the regular season, and adding another six goals and 12 points in 18 playoff games.
However, with Salavat eliminated from the post-season Tuesday, the free agent-to-be is likely to start considering options for the upcoming campaign.
Lepisto hasn’t played in the NHL since 2011-12 when he suited up in 26 games with the Blackhawks, and played another three games in the post-season for Chicago. Following that campaign, though, he left North America and split the 2012-13 campaign between Lokomotiv Yaroslavl and Lev Prague. He struggled that season, but found his offensive game in each season that followed, putting up seasons of 25, 23 and now 30 points.
Drafted 66th overall by Washington in 2004, Lepisto didn’t come over to the NHL until the 2007-08 season, and after two seasons bouncing between the Capitals and the AHL’s Hershey Bears, Lepisto was moved along to the Coyotes. From there, he went to the Blue Jackets before his one-season stint with the Blackhawks.
Lepisto has represented Finland at the past two Olympics, scoring one goal and three points in 12 games and helped his home country to two consecutive bronze medals. He has a ton of international experience, too, playing 34 World Championship games. Lepisto was part of the gold-medal winning Finnish World Championship team in 2011 and he was named one of Finland’s top three players at the 2013 tournament.
If Lepisto does return, it’s likely he fills a bottom-pairing role somewhere in the NHL, and Vaysfeld, who said if the money worked out they would love to keep Lepisto, compared the Finnish defenseman’s situation to that of Evgeny Medvedev, who signed with the Philadelphia Flyers in the off-season as a veteran defender.