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Vatanen signs four-year contract with Ducks

Defenseman avoids free agency, led Anaheim with nine goals, 38 points in 71 games @NHLdotcom

Defenseman Sami Vatanen signed a four-year contract Saturday to remain with the Anaheim Ducks.

Vatanen, 25, could have become a restricted free agent July 1. The contract is worth $19.5 million, according to the Orange County Register, an average annual value of $4.875 million.

"It's always been my dream to play in Anaheim and I wanted to stay there," Vatanen told the Ducks website. "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."

Anaheim general manager Bob Murray was pleased to get Vatanen signed long-term. 

"One of the things we set out at the end of the year to do was try to keep Sami and keep him in the fold because he's a very competitive young defenseman and important to our hockey team," Murray said during a Facebook live chat Saturday. "It was a deep breath [Friday] when I talked to Sami and he agreed."

Vatanen led Ducks defensemen this season with nine goals and 38 points in 71 games. He has 29 goals, 98 points and is plus-25 in 194 NHL games. Vatanen had a goal and four points in seven games in the 2016 Stanley Cup Playoffs. The Ducks were eliminated by the Nashville Predators in the Western Conference First Round in seven games.

Vatanen will play for Team Finland at the 2016 World Cup of Hockey, which runs from Sept. 17 to Oct. 1 in Toronto.

"My plan every year is just to get better, and I think I've been doing that every season since I came here," Vatanen said. "I believe I can be better next year and the next year and the next year. That's the main thing. I don't have expectations for All-Star Games or points or whatever. If I can help the team win, then I'm happy."

Vatanen grew up a Ducks fan as a young hockey player in Finland, with a familiar movie franchise being the main source of interest. 

"The Ducks have been my favorite team since I was 5 years old," he said. "And it all started with the 'Mighty Ducks' movies. I was watching those a lot when I was a kid, and from there the Ducks started being my favorite."

Also aiding in Vatanen's decision was Finnish legend Teemu Selanne, who played 15 seasons for Anaheim. 

"Teemu played there and everybody here followed him," Vatanen said. "I've just always loved the team and now I love the place, the weather and everything. It was a dream come true when they drafted me, and now I've had a chance to be there four or five years. Now I'll be there four more. It's a very nice feeling."

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