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Salmela eager for NHL debut

Tuesday, 10.07.2008 / 1:16 PM / In The System

By Mike G. Morreale - NHL.com Staff Writer

While defenseman Anssi Salmela has yet to play a game in the NHL, the experience gained for bronze-medal winning Team Finland during the 2008 World Championships could certainly be considered a primer.

Alongside fellow countrymen Teemu Selanne (Anaheim Ducks), Tuomo Ruutu (Carolina Hurricanes) and Niklas Backstrom (Minnesota Wild), Salmela proved aggressive (team-leading 37 penalty minutes), efficient (fourth among defensemen in ice time at 15:14) and effective (second on the team with a plus-3 rating) in his eight games.

"It was an incredible experience and playing on that level was very hard, especially against players like (Alex) Ovechkin," Salmela told NHL.com. "But now that I've gone through it, I feel a little more confident playing in North America."

That impressive showing prompted New Jersey Devils General Manager Lou Lamoriello to sign the 5-foot-11, 190-pound Salmela, who posted a league-best 16 goals for defensemen, along with 32 points and 40 penalty minutes, in 56 games for Tappara of the Finnish League in 2007-08.

Dave Conte, who is entering his 25th season with the Devils and 16th as the team's director of scouting, said Salmela could become yet another success story in New Jersey.

"I saw him play in a couple of these international tournaments on the national team and we had our eyes on him," Conte said. "He's a player with ability, and hopefully will be a mirror image of some of the other successes we've had like Johnny Oduya. He's a tough kid and represented himself very well against NHL players in the World Championships. The adaptation, earning a spot and gaining the confidence of the coaches are all unanswerable at this time. I think the key to a successful organization is open-mindedness and letting the performance dictate the reward."

During the summer, Lamoriello was cautiously optimistic that Salmela could make the jump to the professional ranks in North America. His faith was rewarded when the defenseman did, indeed, earn a roster spot for opening night.

"He's from the same league Brian Rafalski came out of, but I always use caution because you never know how a player is going to adjust," Lamoriello told reporters.

Thus far, the adjustment has been a relatively smooth one for Salmela.

"There are some differences, like the rink size since they are smaller here than in Finland and the game is a little bit faster and tougher. But I've experienced this in Finland on occasion, so it's just a matter of working hard and battling. I enjoy the physical game, but right now I probably don't have that kind of strength that is needed, but I'll work at it.

"I signed with the Devils because I feel I can make this team," Salmela said. "What's the point in signing if I didn't believe I could get a spot with the team? I realize I will have to work hard and there are many guys thinking the same way I am, but we'll see what happens."

Salmela is confident his style of play, which includes good instincts and grit while producing from the back end, is well-suited for the rigors of the NHL. In 226 Finnish Elite League games, he scored 36 goals, 78 points and 208 penalty minutes. In the Finnish junior league from 2001 through 2005, he scored 20 goals, 46 points and 72 penalty minutes in 86 games.

"I'll go hard when the game starts and try to handle and keep the puck while working the transition," he said. "I can play any role that the coach needs me and I feel that will benefit me." Anssi Salmela

"I'll go hard when the game starts and try to handle and keep the puck while working the transition," he said. "I can play any role that the coach needs me and I feel that will benefit me. There are a lot of good young players in the League now and I never really had a favorite player growing up, although I did enjoy watching Paul Coffey. Many Russian players were so technically sound, but there really isn't one that stands out to me."

Contact Mike Morreale at mmorreale@nhl.com.
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