WINNIPEG, MB - On Saturday, the NHL announced the Winnipeg Jets and Florida Panthers will play a pair of games in Helsinki, Finland next November.
The games will feature a couple of Finnish stars from the NHL including Jets Patrik Laine and Florida’s Aleksander Barkov.
Before being drafted by the Jets in 2016, Laine – who hails from Tampere, Finland - lead his team Tappara to a Finnish SM-liiga Championship, scoring 33 points (17G, 16A) in 46 regular season games. After an impressive rookie season in the NHL, which saw him finish second in rookie scoring, Laine has drawn comparisons back home to another homegrown hero and former Jet Teemu Selanne and is a big reason the league wanted the Jets to be a part of this. Holding a pair of games in Finland is a perfect scenario for the NHL and the Jets.
Twenty-two year-old Barkov, who is taking part in the All-Star game this weekend for the first time in his career, is also from Tampere and played there in the professional league before the Panthers selected him with the No. 2 pick in the 2013 draft. Laine and Barkov are good friends off the ice as well.
Laine won’t be the only Jet to be returning home for the games. Joel Armia, a native of Pori, Finland, has had a good season for Winnipeg, putting up nine goals and 20 points this season. Manitoba Moose defenseman Sami Niku and 2017 first round draft pick Kristian Vesalainen will also have opportunities to crack the Jets lineup next season.
This won’t be the first time the Panthers have played in Finland. Florida played two games in Helsinki against the Chicago Blackhawks in 2009, the first regular-season games ever played in Finland.
The NHL also announced on Saturday that the Edmonton Oilers and New Jersey Devils will play a season-opening two-game set overseas in Sweden.
After the all-star break, the Jets return to action Tuesday night when they welcome the Tampa Bay Lightning to Bell MTS Place in the first game of a 10-game homestand for Winnipeg.
Bill Burfoot, Manitoba Post
Photo James Carey Lauder