On May 16, the Dallas Stars solidified their Finnish foundation. General manager Jim Nill and the Stars awarded Finnish defenseman Esa Lindell with a six-year contract extension. But what stuck out was the signing of fellow Finn, and former Liiga standout, Joel Kiviranta. Kiviranta, a 23-year-old winger, further solidifies an already solid core of Finnish skaters for the Stars. Finland has become a hot bed of talent that has boiled over into the Stars system.
Jere Lehtinen’s number 26 was raised to the rafters of the American Airlines Center in the 2017-18 season. He was the only Finnish-born player on the Stars’ 1998-99 Stanley Cup-winning roster. The Stars are now home to four Finns who could be the foundation of another Cup run. Playoff phenom Roope Hintz and rookie sensation Miro Heiskanen are the best of a group of Finnish skaters on the NHL roster.
Heiskanen is the antithesis of Lindell. Heiskanen is an offensive-minded blueliner who doubles as an offensive weapon. At 6-feet, 170 pounds, what he lacks in size, he makes up for in quickness. Explosive acceleration and impeccable vision round out the rookie all-star into the future leader of the Stars defense. On the opposite end of the spectrum we find Lindell.
Hailing from Helsinki, Finland, Lindell was the 74th-overall pick in the 2012 NHL Draft. Since then, fans in Dallas have watched the quiet growth of a now top-tier blueliner in the NHL. He has never been the type of skater to rack up points, but runs the point like a veteran general. His career has taken him from Liiga teams Jokerit and Ässät to the top pairing of the Stars. With his contract extension, one of the Finnish pillars has been cemented. Lindell presents an imposing frame on the ice. With the size advantage, he plays a style of defense that can only be described in one way: an interruption. He is a strictly defensive-minded skater who finds himself often crashing the boards. While it appears to be a slower style of play, he poses a valuable piece of the puzzle as he plays over 20 minutes of ice time per game.
At 49th-overall in the 2015 NHL Draft, the Stars took a chance on a swift-footed Finn from Tampere. Hintz spent most of his professional career with his hometown Ilves before being transferred to HIFK. In 2015, he concluded his time in Finland by signing a three-year entry-level contract with the Stars. Ask me in 2017 if Hintz would have become a mainstay in the lineup in Dallas and my answer would have been “no.” Hintz was presented with an opportunity to make an impact and has done just that. Diamonds are formed under immense pressure, and when the pressure was applied, Hintz formed. He solidified himself as a permanent fixture on the NHL roster during the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs. He had a memorable performance scoring five goals and adding three assists. Not to mention he played the entire final game on a broken foot.
Kirivanta is an unfamiliar name to most. Think of a Finnish Mats Zuccarello body type with room to growth. Evolution will be the name of the game for Kirivanta, who’s professional career is much like that of his Finnish counterparts in Liiga. He spent the last three seasons with Sport, never playing in less than 48 games (Liiga seasons only last 60 games). As part of the 2019 World Championship team, he tallied three points, including two goals, in nine games. Heiskanen, Hintz, and Lindell have all shown Nill that giving the Finns room to swim only leads to success in their short time with the Stars. Kirivanta was undrafted and has a steep mountain so scale. He poses the most intriguing story at this time as he has everything to prove. I look for him to spend the entirety of next season in Cedar Park with the AHL Texas Stars. You don’t have to stray far in comparing him to a fellow Finn. Look for his career to mimic that of Hintz.
The foundation for a Finnish future is all but set for years to come in Texas.
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