Finnish scoring leader Lahti may be free agent target

With a lack of quality scorers in this year’s free agent pool, some NHL teams may choose to look outside the box for sleeper players ready to contribute to their team. That’s what Finnish scoring leader Janne Lahti is hoping anyway.

Lahti is gaining attention as a possible sleeper in this year’s free agency pool after having played in the Finnish hockey league the past three seasons. Last year, Lahti racked up 37 goals and 59 points in 59 games with Jokerit Helsinky.

This wouldn’t be Lahti’s first go-around with North American hockey, however. Lahti spent a season with the Hamilton Bulldogs of the American Hockey League in 2007-08, but struggled at times and only managed a meager nine goals and nine assists in 65 games.

Rumors are swirling that Lahti is weighing offers from several NHL clubs right now with the New Jersey Devils and Detroit Red Wings being the frontrunners for his services, but a decision will need to be made soon as June 15 is the deadline to sign European players for NHL teams. New Jersey probably holds an advantage over Detroit as Lahti could immediately step in and claim a roster spot with the Devils where the Red Wings would possibly choose to put Lahti back in the AHL to see what he is capable of  and allow him to acclimate to the North American style if he doesn’t earn a roster spot out of training camp – something that is highly unlikely as Detroit has an abundance of players right now both waiting to crack their lineup and hoping to return instead of being forced into retirement.

Several other teams are looking for quality scoring and could get in on the hunt today or tomorrow before Lahti makes a decision. The Kings, Rangers and Maple Leafs have all expressed interest in beefing up their offense this offseason.

Landing a highly coveted European free agent comes with its risks. Several years ago, Fabian Brunnstrom was a relative nobody garnering a lot of attention from NHL clubs. After being courted by several teams, Brunnstrom decided to sign with the Dallas Stars where he was offered an immediate roster spot. Brunnstrom struggled and has spent most of his career in the minors since signing in 2008-09.

Ville Leino was another highly coveted European free agent when he signed with the Detroit Red Wings in 2008 after posting 77 points in the Finnish league. Leino came in with high promise but never fully panned out with the Wings but found himself a home with the Philadelphia Flyers where he was a key component in their Stanley Cup playoffs run last season. Leino followed up that performance with 19 goals and 53 points this past season and could still have more potential in the future.

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