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Vaananen to Vancouver

by Jeff Paterson / Vancouver Canucks
When your last name is Vaananen and you were born in Vantaa, Finland, it only seems natural that at some point you’d wind up as a member of the Vancouver Canucks.

That’s exactly what has happened for defenseman Ossi Vaananen who was claimed off waivers by the Canucks from the Philadelphia Flyers on Friday morning.

The 28-year-old blueliner in on his way back to the National Hockey League’s Western Conference after starting his career in Phoenix – he was the Coyotes’ 2nd round pick in 1998 -- before being dealt to the Colorado Avalanche a few years later.

He spent last season playing for Djurgardens in the Swedish Elite League and then returned to the NHL signing a one-year contract with Philadelphia last summer.

Jeff Paterson is a Team 1040 broadcaster and a regular contributor to the Georgia Straight.

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He had played in 46 games for the Flyers this year scoring once and adding nine assists while posting a +7 in the plus/minus category. The left-handed shooter clocked a season (and career) high logging 25:48 of ice time in a Flyers 2-1 overtime victory in Carolina in early December, but recently had had trouble cracking the club’s line-up and on Thursday was placed on waivers.

Vaananen is big – 6’4 and 215 pounds – and when he’s on his game is a physical defenseman who was fourth on the Flyers and second among the team’s defensemen recording 85 hits so far this season.

That total is one more than both Kevin Bieksa and Mattias Ohlund have to lead Canuck blueliners in that department. Vaananen has also blocked 75 shots this season.

In 467 career NHL games, Vaananen has 13 goals, 67 points, is +25 and he has racked up 482 penalty minutes. On top of that, he has also skated in 17 career playoff games reaching the second-round with Colorado in the spring of 2004 but hasn’t been to the post-season since 2006.

Two of his connections to the Canucks are assistant coach Rick Bowness who coached in Phoenix and assistant general manager Laurence Gilman who held that same post in the desert early in Vaananen’s career. Both would have seen Vaananen as a young defenseman who showed great promise earning the opportunity to play for Finland at the 2002 Olympics in Salt Lake City and the World Cup in 2004.

In between those international assignments, Vaananen also took part in the NHL’s Young Stars game in Florida in 2003. Following that game, outside the Sunrise Center as it was then known, Vaananen was hit by a car and suffered a serious knee injury that kept him out of the Coyotes line up for close to six weeks. He recovered from the injury but was dealt to Colorado the following season and has bounced around since then.

In Ossi Vaananen, the Vancouver Canucks are adding an NHL-calibre defenseman who gives them depth on the blueline. He’ll likely fill the same role with the Canucks that he did with the Flyers which was as a player who’ll have to earn his spot in the line-up.

When he was playing in Philly, the Flyers used Vaananen as one of their top four penalty-killing defensemen. He is cost-effective with what’s left of his $1 million dollar salary remaining on a contract that expires at the end of the season. And the hockey club didn’t have to give up any assets to acquire him.

What Canuck fans will have to wait to see is whether Vaananen is the only change to the Canuck blueline prior to Wednesday’s NHL trade deadline or whether Mike Gillis plucked Vaananen off waivers as a precursor to doing something else.

The move certainly doesn’t hurt the Vancouver Canucks. Whether it helps them will be up to Ossi Vaananen.
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