From American Hockey League Defenceman of the Year to a terminated contract, defenceman Sami Niku has now officially seen it all as a member of the Winnipeg Jets.
On Monday afternoon, the Jets announced that the team had placed the 24-year-old blueliner on Unconditional Waivers for the purpose of contract termination. Niku had one year left on a two-year contract featuring a $725K annual average value.
Despite looking for a trading partner, Jets’ general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff was unable to find a player willing to offer up a return for the once promising blueline prospect.
Although drafted in the seventh round back in 2015, Niku progressed rapidly through the American Hockey League with the Manitoba Moose. The Finnish puck-mover put up 16 goals and 54 points in just 76 games of his rookie season, earning himself a call up to the big leagues in 2018. He just so happened to score his first career goal in that game.
Despite the hype, Niku was unable to retain a spot on the Jets’ back-end, often falling out of favour with coaching staff as well as suffering unfortunately-timed injuries. He spent more time in the press box than on the ice over the past three seasons. Only suiting up in 54 total NHL games, Niku has two goals, 10 points and 22 penalty minutes, while finding himself a -5 in the plus/minus department.
Following a 2019-20 campaign that saw the agile defender split his time rather evenly between the AHL (18 games) and the NHL (17 games), Niku dressed in just six contests for Winnipeg in 2020-21. He did not record a point, while picking up eight penalty minutes in the process. He served as a long-term member of the team’s newly-implemented taxi squad, while wrestling for playing time with head coach Paul Maurice.
With the additions of fellow defencemen Nate Schmidt and Brenden Dillon, paired with the injury recovery of Nathan Beaulieu, Niku’s spot in the press box was all but locked up once again for 2021-22. With frustration coming to a boiling point on both sides of the coin, contract termination was the only logical choice to help both the player and organization.