Florida Panthers’ Finnish hopes thrive on Liiga loans

On December 2, Finland’s top professional hockey league, La Liiga, announced that the the season would be suspended from December 3 to 19 due to new COVID-19 regulations in the Scandinavian country. These have been put in place to fight the wave of new virus cases, which are hitting the world hard.

Unfortunately, that means we won’t see Finnish hopes in Florida light up the lamp for a few weeks. That being said, it’s worth taking a closer look at the performances of Aleksander Barkov’s compatriots throughout their time in the Liiga so far this season.

Anton Lundell

As a Panthers fan it’s getting harder and harder to stop talking about Lundell and the way he plays in La Liiga doesn’t help shut up how excited I am.

Related: Panthers’ Anton Lundell set to become a star

Currently, he is currently tied for second in the league in goals with future NHL teammate Aleksi Saarela at 12, and alone holds second in points with 20 to 17 games. In addition, he is currently the top points scorer among all Liiga players under 20. Additionally, the Finnish center currently wears a gold helmet when playing, indicating that he is the top point scorer for his side, HIFK Helsinki. With this, his team is currently in fourth place overall in the league.

As the NHL season approaches, his abilities and skills have shown he has what it takes to play with the greats.

Aleksi saarela

Of all the players to cover on this list, Saarela is the only one with NHL experience so far, totaling four points (2 goals, 2 assists) in nine games last season and having played one game in playoffs in 2018- 19 season. Hailing from Caroline, he shows why the Canes should have tried to keep him.

With the Liiga, the native of Helsinki is in full tear. He is currently tied for second in the league in goals with 12 with Lundell, and most goals for his team, Lukko. Plus, he’s eighth in points with 18 points in 18 games, averaging one point per game so far. A little unfair that Florida currently owns the rights to two of the Liiga’s top five scorers, don’t you think? In addition, his team are currently tied for first in the Liiga standings.

However, unlike Lundell, Saarela currently does not have a golden helmet. He is only one point away from center Eetu Koivistoinen for the team leading the points. So when the season resumes I imagine he would have no problem getting it back

Eetu Luostarinen

Like Saarela, Luostarinen was originally a prospect from Carolina. The only difference is that he came to Florida as part of Vincent Trocheck’s trade on February 24, which also gave Panthers Erik Haula, Chase Priskie and Lucas Wallmark.

Eetu Luostarinen Carolina Hurricanes
Eetu Luostarinen, Carolina Hurricanes (Carolina Hurricanes Media Archive)

Luostarinen may not have a gold helmet or is currently in close contact with other top La Liiga players, but that doesn’t mean he’s not doing well. He has 15 points (5 goals, 10 assists) in 17 games played for his current team, KalPa. With that, he’s tied for 20th in points with eight other players and second on his team, so he’s very close to receiving the Golden Helmet. While not that flashy, he shows he can get the job done and can cause massive damage in the NHL when his name is called.

What’s the next step for these stars?

It is clear that these young men have exactly what it takes to be successful at the professional level. While that might not translate to a great game in the NHL, it definitely shows hope for the Panthers’ future. Additionally, Lundell, Saarela and Luostarinen will have excellent young teammates in Barkov, Jonathan Huberdeau and Aaron Ekblad to help shape their game.

They will also receive wise words and wisdom from veteran players who have seen it all, including deep playoffs, such as Brett Connolly, Anton Stralman, Alexander Wennberg and Noel Acciari. Plus, they’ll learn from a decorated head coach in Joel Quenneville, who can easily toughen them up for a Stanley Cup run in the near future. For these young players their cap is very high and hopefully they will have an easy transition into the NHL with many factors to help them.