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The Preds Wild Card: Miikka Salomaki

Hard-Hitting Winger Has Missed Almost Entire Season, but is Now Making His Return

by John Glennon @glennonsports / glennonsports@gmail.com

With the playoffs starting next week, Predators coach Peter Laviolette finds himself with a pleasant dilemma:

He has 16 mostly healthy forwards - healthy for this time of the year, anyway - and decisions to make as to which to use in the postseason.

Should Laviolette, for instance, want a veteran points producer, he has the option of using P.A. Parenteau.

Should he want veteran feistiness and leadership - even though there's not much fighting in the playoffs - he has the option of using Cody McLeod.

Also among Laviolette's full deck of forwards, however, is an interesting wildcard: Miikka Salomaki.

Having played just four games this season because of injuries, Salomaki might not be ready for insertion into the playoff lineup right away.

But the 5-foot-11, 203-pound Finnish tank strikes me as the kind of player who might be able to provide a nice dose of postseason shake, rattle and roll should the Predators find themselves in need.

"There's a good mix of players that we have and that we can use," Laviolette said. "But you can check a lot of boxes that might favor the type of game [Salomaki] can play. He can skate, he can hit, he can battle, he goes to hard areas and he's hard to play against. If that's the type of game we're required to play, it's nice to know he's available and he's back and he's healthy."

Video: NSH@ANA, Gm5: Salomaki beats Andersen in front

Since he's missed so much of this season, it's almost hard to recall the kind of impact that Salomaki - a 24-year-old, second-round draft pick - can have on a contest.

But some numbers from the past offer a good indication:

In his very first NHL game, back in 2014-15, Salomaki blew up the Dallas Stars with a goal and seven hits. He hasn't stopped thumping since. In 61 games as rookie last season, Salomaki piled up 164 hits, easily the highest total among Predators forwards.

In his four games this season, Salomaki has shown the same proclivity for punishment, doling out 12 hits, an average of three per contest that - though admittedly coming in a very small sample size - leads the Predators.

"We joke around that he's like a wrecking ball. He's the bull," Predators defenseman Anthony Bitetto said. "He'll run 100 miles per hour into a wall. Hopefully, he's hitting someone on the way.

"That's what his game is - hard forechecking. When pucks get dumped in the corner, he's going to come full throttle. It's not fun to be on the other end of that."

Video: BOS@NSH: Salomaki lays a big hit on Pastrnak

He is, in other words, a real pain in the rump to play against, the kind of player that can create chaos with his forechecking and put second thoughts into opposing defensemen retreating to play the puck in their own zone.

"He hits hard - and he finishes all of his hits given the opportunity," Laviolette said. "He can also move quick enough to get there, so I think he can be a factor - somebody who can be a fly in the ointment, change the complexion of a game and bring the elements he's capable of into a game."

Salomaki played in the Predators' first two games this season before suffering a hand injury.

Just as it looked as if he was ready to return in December, Salomaki suffered a lower-body injury that knocked him out of action until just recently. He found himself frustrated, waiting and wondering when he'd next be able to give the Preds a boost.

"It took a little more time than I thought it would," Salomaki said, "but I believed all the time that I would still play this season."

Salomaki played three games in Milwaukee last month to help get his game back in order, and the fact that he's already played twice in three nights this week - against the New York Islanders and Dallas - is further indication he's making strides.

Video: NSH@FLA: Salomaki increases the Predators' lead

It's not clear quite yet what role Salomaki will play in the postseason.

But based on his abilities to skate and smash - qualities that are appreciated even more in the playoffs - Salomaki is a wildcard worth watching.

"It's always my goal to be tough to play against," Salomaki said. "I hope it's no fun to play against me. That's a good thing."

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