It’s time for our annual countdown of the best 25 Nashville Predators players under 25 years old.
This is not only a tradition here at OTF, but is also something that you might see at many other SBNation NHL blogs. The premise is simple: rank the 25 best players who have not yet reached their 25th birthday (as of August 1st, 2017).
At #19, Miikka Salomaki.
Salomaki makes an interesting case to be on this list. The fourth-line winger didn’t play much hockey at all this past season—only five games in the NHL and nine games total, due to an undisclosed injury. For that matter, he hasn’t played much hockey at all at the NHL level. The one-time, 20-goal scorer in the AHL only has 67 NHL games under his belt, which isn’t that low for a 24-year old, but Salomaki will be facing an uphill battle when it comes to getting ice time next season.
Drafted in 2011 after his first season in the SM-Liiga, Salomaki left Finland with 50 career points in 122 games at Finland’s highest level of hockey. In his first season in North America, Salomaki scored 20 goals and 50 points in 75 games for the Admirals, turning heads in the process.
In 2014-15, Salomaki earned his first test of the NHL, but solidified his roster spot the following year. This past season, Salomaki’s injuries kept him on the sideline while more offensively-minded players stepped up in his absence. Aside from his nonexistent offensive production, Salomaki is not much of an effective player anymore. His 37.63% Corsi-For last season was better than only Vernon Fiddler, Cody McLeod & Harry Zolnierczyck, but with a far smaller sample size.
His deployment is now more bland (roughly equal across all three zones) signaling that his former expertise in defensive play, shot suppression, and forechecking may be replaceable. Even his former specialty in penalty killing is now being replaced by guys like Filip Forsberg and Viktor Arvidsson.
Regardless of his shortcomings, Salomaki can still be an effective player. His forechecking ability is still better than other bottom-half players and he played this past season effectively, in limited time, with Austin Watson - as seen here:
Regardless of his short comings, Salomaki is a regular NHL player and, on other teams, would play more regularly. Going into the 2017-18 season, I see him as the Preds 12th or 13th forward, so don’t expect him to play 82 games.
These are highlights from Salomaki’s most productive season to date in North America, 2013-14. It’s an excellent example of what the Predators’ expected when they drafted Salomaki: a hard skating, forechecking forward with a physical presence and a good sense around the net to put pucks home. Salomaki still has time to grow and reestablish this game at the NHL level, but it will be curious if he can do so with the likes of Kevin Fiala and Pontus Aberg raising the bar for the younger players in the organization.
Salomaki, as stated above, can still contribute at the NHL level. A full season on the ice in 2017-18 should boost his production. While I don’t expect him to be out of the organization after next season, it should be a make or break year for Salo to prove his worth, much like Austin Watson did this season, or fear other Ads taking his place in seasons to come.
Salomaki is entering the second year of his two-year contract. He will make $650K this season, and his contract will count $612.5K against the Predators’ cap. Upon expiry, he will be a restricted free agent.