Despite rumors that Niko Mikkola would be coming to North America next season, he’ll remain in Finland for two more years.
While he was a fifth-round pick in the 2015 NHL Draft, Finnish defenseman Niko Mikkola is actually one of the St. Louis Blues’ more intriguing prospects. Earlier this year, there were rumors that the 21-year-old blueliner would come to North America for the 2017-18 season and join an impressive group of Blues defensive prospects that also includes Jake Walman, Jordan Schmaltz, Vince Dunn, Tommy Vannelli, and fellow Fin Petteri Lindbohm.
It turns out now, though, that Mikkola won’t be coming to America any time soon. He signed a two-year contract with Tappara of Liiga, Finland’s top professional league, earlier this week. In Tappara’s press release announcing Mikkola’s signing, the defenseman states that his goal is still to get to the NHL within the next few years, but it’s uncertain whether he plans to play for the Blues or another team.
Mikkola’s greatest asset is his size; he stands 6-foot-4 and appears to be a bit sturdier than his listed weight of 185 pounds. He’s also shown increasing offensive potential as he’s aged, though. In 56 games for KalPa of Liiga in 2016-17, he scored four goals and added 11 assists, also collecting a goal and two assists in 10 playoff games.
If the Blues do hope to eventually bring Mikkola over to North America–and they should, because he’s a tremendous athlete and has been one of their most impressive players at their prospect camp for the past two years–they’ll have to sign him by the end of his deal with Tappara. NHL clubs retain the rights to European draftees for four years after selecting them, so Mikkola could play out his deal with Tappara and then make a smooth transition to the NHL at the age of 23.
At the same time, he could wait just a couple months and then become a free agent, so if he’s really impressive during his time with his new club, there may be other organizations that seek his services come 2019.