There was a lot of hype for Finnish forward Petri Kontiola going into the NHL preseason. After all, he had been a force for Metallurg Magnitogorsk and Traktor Chelyabinsk over the past couple of seasons, not to mention a strong point producer for the Finnish national team at three different levels in 2014. All signs pointed to him making the Leafs roster, with people slotting him anywhere between fourth line centre, and second line right wing.
However, once it came time to hit the ice, the results weren’t what everyone had hoped. He wasn’t as involved in the play as he needed to be, and he was sent down to the Marlies, leaving many to wonder how he would react. Today, we got some answers from the man himself.
“I wasn’t surprised.” said Kontiola, in a one-on-one with myself this morning. “My camp wasn’t… it didn’t go that well. I was just waiting for this.”
This, of course, referring to the assignment to the American Hockey League – a place where he has been before, playing in 159 regular season and games and notching 140 career points with Rockford and Iowa. However, it’s a level he hasn’t played at in half a decade. But what was it that the Leafs just didn’t like?
“My skating. I have to work on my skating”. Indeed, what seemed to be his struggle was that he was struggling to keep up with the speed of his opponents in the NHL. Many assume that you have to be an elite skater to succeed in Europe and at the International level, but as it turns out, it’s just a different skill set.
“The rink is smaller over here. There’s not much time to do anything. You have to do it all much quicker; that’s one thing I’ve got to learn.” of course, the “first step” is often what separates the good from the great in the National Hockey League. With little room to maintain top speed, your acceleration and explosiveness must be very good to move from side to side and within the zone at a level that will bring you success.
Thankfully for Kontiola, if there’s a place that will provide him that opportunity, it’s the Marlies. Since the team plays in the same city as the Maple Leafs and shares many of the same facilities and staff, Kontiola will have access to skating guru Barb Underhill, who one can expect will be putting in some extra time with the 29 year old. As well, the league on the whole is more forgiving to those who lack acceleration, which should lead to him putting up some strong numbers as he tries to impress enough to find his way back.
To the Leafs, that is. There has been a lot of speculation, but as it stands, the plan is to earn the spot he originally seeked. “I just have to be better. I have to be quicker, and I’m going to work on my game.”
It’s not a terribly surprising outcome – Kontiola definitely seems to have an NHL level skill set, and with either season still not under way yet, there’s still lots of time for him to get significant games with the Leafs this year. If he believes that this is an addressable issue, and by all means it should be, there’s no harm in at least attempting to stick it out a bit with the Marlies. Particularly when his contract is a 1-way; he’ll be making his $1.1 million no matter what.