As part of the AnaheimDucks.com annual Player Reviews, we will be featuring a different Ducks player throughout the coming weeks, in numerical uniform number order. Each review will include key stats, a highlight from last season and an outlook for 2016-17
By Kyle Shohara
The 2015-16 regular season was another step forward in the development of defenseman Sami Vatanen, who once again made his presence known on the Ducks blueline. His offensive instincts made him a constant threat on the attack and on the power play, and it showed in the form of a personal-best 38-point season.
The 25-year-old established career highs in points, assists (29) and appearances (71), and finished the regular season as the club’s leading defenseman in scoring, game-winning goals (2), assists, points per game (0.54) and power-play points (19; 4g/15a), and second in goals (9). Vatanen was Anaheim’s highest scoring defenseman since Lubomir Visnovsky (18-50=68) and Cam Fowler (10-30=40) in 2010-11.
As a pending restricted free agent, the Ducks wasted no time locking him down. On June 18, they signed Vatanen to a four-year contract extension that will keep him here through the 2019-20 NHL season. It was a joyous moment for the affable Finn.
“It’s always been my dream to play in Anaheim and I wanted to stay there,” he said shortly after putting pen to paper. “I can see they really wanted me there, so that helps a lot with negotiations and things like that. It’s a big thing that they trust me there, and I feel like I have a chance to help the team. It’s just really exciting, and I’m happy it’s all done.”
Plucked out of the fourth round (106th overall) of the 2009 NHL Draft, the 5-10, 183-pound defenseman has collected 98 points (29g/69a) with a +25 rating and 78 penalty minutes in 194 career NHL games with the Ducks. He also ranks tied for fifth among NHL defensemen in power-play goals (11) since the 2014-15 season, and has added 16 points (4g/12a) with 14 penalty minutes in 28 career Stanley Cup Playoff games.
Vatanen was solid in Anaheim’s First Round series against the Nashville Predators, posting four points (1g/3a) with a +4 rating in seven games. His lone goal came on a breakaway in Game 5 at Honda Center after he exited the penalty box with 11:30 remaining in regulation. Jakob Silfverberg sprung Vatanen with a deft saucer pass that split defensemen Shea Weber and Roman Josi through the neutral zone. Uncontested, Vatanen went blocker-side on goaltender Pekka Rinne with a hard snap shot that gave the Ducks a 3-1 lead in what ended up being a 5-2 victory and 3-2 series lead.
Used primarily on the third pairing with Clayton Stoner the past two seasons, it’ll be interesting to see where Ducks head coach Randy Carlyle slots Vatanen next season. Although considered an undersized defenseman, Vatanen’s work in the defensive zone has improved every season. Perhaps the time is now for him to be thrusted into a top-four role on a regular basis. Regardless, you can expect him to be a fixture on the power play. There’s no doubt he has the ability to be among the league’s leaders when it comes to scoring among defensemen.