The Anaheim Ducks secured a key piece of their present and future on the blue line when the club re-signed restricted free agent defenseman Sami Vatanen to a two-year deal. Mike Brehm of USA Today reports the contract will pay Vatanen $2.525 million for an annual average of $1.26 million.
Vatanen recently completed a bonus-laden entry-level contract that came with a $785,000 cap hit, so Vatenen is getting a raise in his base salary with this new deal.
The 23-year-old had a strong showing in 48 appearances with the Ducks last season, posting 21 points and earning an invite to play at the Olympics for Finland. Though his role diminished after Luca Sbisa returned from injury, but there's a good chance he'll see increased playing time in 2014-15 especially with Sbisa now gone.
Vatanen did step into the Ducks' playoff series with the Los Angeles Kings and averaged more than 20 minutes per game, playing a lot on the power play.
Playing as part of a young defensive group that also includes Cam Fowler and Hampus Lindholm, the future of the blue line is brighter with Vatanen on it. Also, with Vatanen locked up for at least two more years, the Ducks' blue line will essentially remain intact from last season's strong run to the top spot in the Pacific Division, on top of the addition of Clayton Stoner in free agency.
There's still a lot to be seen out of Vatanen. With only 56 career games over the last two seasons, he is only beginning to realize his potential as an NHLer. His inclusion on the Finnish Olympic team, with which he won a bronze medal in Sochi, was a signal that he is part of the next big wave of a growing number of young European defensemen coming to the league.
The Ducks get Vatanen on cheap money now and will give him a chance to seize a bigger role with what amounts to a team-friendly bridge deal. He could be due a much larger payday if he continues on an upward trajectory, but it's worth the cheap deal now to find out what's next after a very promising first 56 games in the league.