On Friday, the Toronto Maple Leafs announced to have reached an entry-level contract with Finnish forward Miro Aaltonen. A native of Joensuu, Finland, Aaltonen signed a 3-year deal with the Canadian team. He spent the 2016-17 campaign with Vityaz Moscow Region of the KHL.
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Aaltonen, 23, has played an amazing season with Vityaz, who grabbed a playoff spot for the first time in KHL history. A player with good skating abilities and great puck skills, Aaltonen is a fast forward who can play either center or winger, although he mostly played at center during his KHL tenure. His size is not great at 5’11”, 175 lbs, according to the KHL official site. With former Philadelphia Flyers prospect Mario Kempe and KHL veteran Alexei Kopeikin, Aaltonen formed one of the top lines in the league. Aaltonen scored 19 goals and 44 points in the regular season, finishing scoreless in four playoff contests, where Vityaz was swept by KHL powerhouse SKA St. Petersburg.
In December, Aaltonen was the top scorer of the First Channel Cup with Team Finland, with four goals and five points in three games. However, it was not enough to help Finland to win the tournament.
The Finnish forward was in particularly great shape close to the end of the regular season, where he amassed a number of multi-point games, and his team rose up the standings until they reached a very respectable eighth seed in the Western Conference.
Throughout the season, Aaltonen’s line showed exceptional chemistry. He was often asked about it during his time in Russia, and he always acknowledged the merits of his linemates. “I don’t really know why we have such a great chemistry,” Aaltonen told the KHL official site during a Feb. 7 interview. “Maybe the secret is that we think hockey the same way. We don’t have any linguistic problem. We usually speak in English, but if needed, we can move to Russian.”
Kempe finished the season with 14 goals and 34 points, while Kopeikin netted 21 goals and scored a career-high 51 points during the regular season.
Miro Aaltonen is a useful player on the power play, although his size may raise some concerns. He will most likely start his North American adventure in the AHL.
Prior to moving to the KHL, Aaltonen spent his whole career at home in Finland, mostly playing for Espoo Blues before moving north to Oulu to spend a season with the local Karpat. In Oulu, he played with Carolina Hurricanes player Sebastian Aho and the Edmonton Oilers’ Jesse Puljujarvi. In 2013, he was a sixth-round pick for the Anaheim Ducks, but he never signed with the California franchise.
This is not the first surprise move that the Maple Leafs have made out of Europe in the last few years. The KHL keeps on being a good hunting pool for Lou Lamoriello, who managed to sign depth players like Nikita Soshnikov and core players like Nikita Zaitsev out of the Russian-based league.